Karl Friedrich Benz (1844 – 1929)

Karl Friedrich Benz (25th November 1844 – 4th April 1929)

Karl Benz was born as Karl Friedrich Michael Vaillant, on November 25, 1844 in  Mühlburg, (now a part of Karlsruhe, Baden) Germany, to Josephine Vaillant and a locomotive driver, Johann George Benz. They got married at St. Stephan’s Catholic Church on November 16, 1845 and moved to 13 Prince Street in Muehlburg. According to German law, the child acquired the Name “Benz” by legal marriage of his parents Benz and Vaillant. When he was two years old, his father died in a train accident (or contracted pneumonia due to the steam engine’s open cab) and his name was changed to Karl Friedrich Benz in remembrance of his father.

Karl Friedrich Benz 6
The income that Benz’s mother received after the death of her husband was small and Benz was called upon to help support the family as soon as he was old enough. The family was poor, but Benz’s education was a priority and he excelled as a student.

Benz attended the local Grammar School in Karlsruhe and was a prodigious student. In 1853, at the age of nine he started at the scientifically oriented Lyceum.

Benz had originally focused his studies on locksmithing, but eventually followed his father’s steps toward locomotive engineering. On September 30, 1860, at age fifteen, he passed the entrance exam for mechanical engineering at the University of Karlsruhe, which he subsequently attended. Four years later, under the instruction of Ferdinand Redenbacher, he graduated as an engineer, on July 9th, 1864.

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During these years, while riding his bicycle, he started to envision concepts for a vehicle that would eventually become the horseless carriage.

Following his formal education, Benz had two years of professional training in several companies, but did not fit well in any of them.

The training started in Karlsruhe with two years of varied jobs in a mechanical engineering company. He then moved to Mannheim to work as a draftsman and designer in a scales factory. In 1868 he went to Pforzheim to work for a bridge building company Gebrüder Benckiser Eisenwerke und Maschinenfabrik. Finally, he went to Vienna for a short period to work at an iron construction company.

In 1871, at the age of 27, Karl Benz joined August Ritter in launching the Iron Foundry and Mechanical Workshop in Mannheim, later renamed Factory for Machines for Sheet-metal Working. During this period Karl met Bertha Ringer. The enterprise’s first year went very badly. Ritter turned out to be unreliable, and the business’s tools were impounded. The difficulty was overcome when Benz’s Bertha Ringer now his fiancée, bought out Ritter’s share in the company using her dowry.

Bertha Benz 2
On July 20, 1872, Karl Benz and Bertha Ringer married and the first of their five children arrived a year later.

They had five children:

  • Eugen (May 1, 1873 – March 9, 1958),
  • Richard (October 21, 1874 – September 19, 1955),
  • Clare ( August 1,1877 – ?)
  • Thilde (February 2, 1882 – )
  • Ellen (March 16, 1890 – )

Early business misfortunes did not prevent Carl Benz from developing new types of engines and patenting key engine components. Karl focused their factory’s attention on the development of new and better engines.

To get more revenues, in 1878 he began the work. First, he concentrated all his efforts on creating a reliable petrol two-stroke engines. Benz finished his two-stroke engine on December 31, 1878, New Year’s Eve, and was granted a patent for it in 1879.

His inventions included a throttle system, battery-powered ignition systems, spark plugs, gear shifters, carburetors, the water radiator, and the clutch.

Karl benz two stroke engine
Due to the high production costs, the banks at Mannheim demanded that Bertha and Karl Benz’s enterprise be incorporated and capitalized with more private equity. The Benzes were trapped and they hastily formed an association with the Bühler Brothers, in order to get additional bank support. The company became the joint-stock company Gasmotoren Fabrik Mannheim in 1882.

After all the necessary incorporation agreements, Benz was unhappy because he was left with merely five percent of the shares and a modest position as director.

Even though the venture quickly made a profit, Benz’s investors did not want him to spend valuable resources on inventions. Benz unsuccessfully fought their decision and, after being in business for only three months, left the company, in 1883.

Benz’s lifelong hobby brought him to a bicycle repair shop in Mannheim owned by Max Rose and Friedrich Wilhelm Eßlinger. In 1883, the three founded a new company producing industrial machines: Benz & Company Rheinische Gasmotoren-Fabrik, usually referred to as, Benz & Cie. Quickly growing to twenty-five employees, it soon began to produce static gas engines as well and the new investors were also willing to support Benz’s horseless carriage as long as it did not detract from the production of the primary product

The success of the company gave Benz the opportunity to indulge in his old passion of designing a horseless carriage. Based on his experience with, and fondness for bicycles, he used similar technology when he created an automobile. Karl Benz finished his creation in 1885 and named it the Benz Patent Motorwagen.
Karl Friedrich Benz and Motorpatent
It was the first automobile entirely designed as such to generate its own power, not simply a motorized-stage coach or horse carriage, which is why Karl Benz was granted his patent and is regarded as its inventor.

The Motorwagen was patented on January 29, 1886 as DRP-37435: “automobile fueled by gas”.

The great demand for stationary, static internal combustion engines forced Karl Benz to enlarge the factory in Mannheim, and in 1886 a new building located on Waldhofstrasse (operating until 1908) was added.

During 1886 and 1887 Benz spent a great deal of his time developing and improving the Motorwagen. He introduced a second gear, a larger, 3-horsepower engine, and improved brakes and springs. The first sale of a Benz automobile occurred in 1887, after it had been displayed at the Paris Exhibition earlier in the year. At the Munich Imperial Exhibition in 1888, Benz was awarded a gold medal for his invention. This recognition brought in many orders for the automobile, which at that time was a novelty that was only affordable by the wealthy.

An important part in the Benz story is this first long distance automobile trip, where the entrepreneurial Bertha Benz, supposedly without the knowledge of her husband, on the morning of August 5, 1888, took this vehicle on a 106 km (66 mi) trip from Mannheim to Pforzheim to visit her mother, taking her sons Eugen and Richard with her.

Bertha Benz 12
Benz had given into the idea of a four-wheeled automobile reluctantly and only after much lobbying by others in his company who sought a more modern design. Unlike other automobile inventors, Benz did not feel that a car needed to physically resemble the traditional four-wheeled carriage. After the model of 1890, he was even more opposed to changes in his design. His opinions were so strong that after a major update of the Benz automobile in 1905, the manufacturer continued to drive his older models of the car.

Benz & Cie. had grown in the interim from 50 employees in 1889 to 430 in 1899. During the last years of the nineteenth century, Benz was the largest automobile company in the world with 572 units produced in 1899.

Because of its size, in 1899, Benz & Cie. became a joint-stock company with the arrival of Friedrich von Fischer and Julius Ganß, who came aboard as members of the Board of Management. Ganß worked in the commercialization department, which is somewhat similar to marketing in contemporary corporations.

In 1893, Karl Benz created the Victoria and in 1894 the Benz Velo participated in the world’s first automobile race.
Karl Friedrich Benz VictoriaBenz-velo
In 1895, Benz also designed the first truck and after some modifications introduced the first motor bus. The Netphener Company operated the first bus service in the world using Benz’s petrol engine driven vehicle. The bus route, between Siegen and the then independent municipality Deuz, was launched on March 18, 1895.

In 1896, Karl Benz was granted a patent for his design of the first flat engine. It had horizontally opposed pistons, a design in which the corresponding pistons reach top dead center simultaneously, thus balancing each other with respect to momentum. Flat engines with four or fewer cylinders are most commonly called boxer engines, boxermotor in German, and also are known as horizontally opposed engines.

In 1903 Benz Built the Parsifal, a contender to DMG car Daimler-Mercedes.

1902-03 Benz Parsifal Phaeton 4
Then, without consulting Benz, the other directors hired some French designers. France was a country with an extensive automobile industry based on Maybach’s creations. Because of this action, after difficult discussions, Karl Benz announced his retirement from design management on January 24, 1903, although he remained as director on the Board of Management through its merger with DMG in 1926 and, remained on the board of the new Daimler-Benz corporation until his death in 1929.

Benz’s sons Eugen and Richard left Benz & Cie. in 1903, but Richard returned to the company in 1904 as the designer of passenger vehicles. That year, sales of Benz & Cie. reached 3,480 automobiles, and the company remained the leading manufacturer of automobiles.

Along with continuing as a director of Benz & Cie., Karl Benz would soon found another company, C. Benz Söhne, (with his son Eugen and closely held within the family), a privately held company for manufacturing automobiles. The brand name used the first initial of the French variant of Benz’s first name, “Carl”.

Karl Benz, Bertha Benz, and their son, Eugen, moved 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) east of Mannheim to live in nearby Ladenburg, and solely with their own capital, founded the private company, C. Benz Sons (German: Benz Söhne) in 1906, producing automobiles and gas engines. The latter type was replaced by petrol engines because lack of demand.

This company never issued stocks publicly, building its own line of automobiles independently from Benz & Cie., which was located in Mannheim. The Benz Sons automobiles were of good quality and became popular in London as taxis.

In 1909, the Blitzen Benz was built in Mannheim by Benz & Cie.

In 1912, Karl Benz liquidated all of his shares in Benz Sons and left the family-held company in Ladenburg to Eugen and Richard, but he remained as a director of Benz & Cie.

During a birthday celebration for him in his home town of Karlsruhe on November 25, 1914, the seventy-year-old Karl Benz was awarded an honorary doctorate by his alma mater, the Karlsruhe University, thereby becoming—Dr. Ing. h. c. Karl Benz.

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Dr. Karl Benz, remained on the Board of Management throughout World War I.  During this period, Benz & Cie, expanded there manufacturing to include engines and parts for planes as well as boats.

In the last production year of the Benz Sons company, 1923, three hundred and fifty units were built. During the following year, 1924, Karl Benz built two additional 8/25 hp units of the automobile manufactured by this company, tailored for his personal use, which he never sold; they are still preserved.

The German economic crisis worsened in 1923 and in 1924 Benz& Cie. and DMG signed an “Agreement of Mutual Interest” valid until the year 2000. Both enterprises standardized design, production, purchasing, sales, and advertising—marketing their automobile models jointly—although keeping their respective brands.

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On June 28, 1926, Benz & Cie. and DMG finally merged as the Daimler-Benz company, baptizing all of its automobiles, Mercedes Benz, honoring the most important model of the DMG automobiles, the 1902 Mercedes 35 hp, along with the Benz name. Karl Benz was a member of the new Daimler Benz board of management for the remainder of his life.

On April 4, 1929, Karl Benz died at home in Ladenburg at the age of eighty-four from a bronchial inflammation.

The Benz home now has been designated as historic and is used as a scientific meeting facility for a nonprofit foundation, the Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz Foundation that honors both Bertha and Karl Benz for their roles in the history of automobiles.

Karl Friedrich Benz Haus_Ladenburg
In 2011, a dramatized television movie about the life of Karl and Bertha Benz was made named Carl & Bertha which premiered on 11 May and was aired by Das Erste on 23 May. A trailer of the movie and a “making of” special were released on YouTube.