The book he wrote, 'Ich baute Autos' (I built cars) is noteworty in many respects. The book is written by one of the second generation of people who even had anything to do with combustion engines and the respective vehicles. Before him, there were only Otto, Daimler, Maybach and Benz, with whom, by the way, he worked with for a while. Because of the lack of memoires, we know little of the others, thus, Horch becomes a contemporary witness from that era.
Whoever has read the book, would surely find the title, as the heading about the life of August Horch, actually a little misleading. Certainly, after his schooling, his journeymans years, his studying and his first employment, he did at some time, build cars, there is however, a long time-span away from the actual construction, during which he was on the road as a lobbyist and an expert.
I found this to be a definite advantage, because, we already know a great deal about the construction of vehicles of the time, not however, about the atmosphere of that period. How was a company organised at that time? Why was it based just here, and not somewhere else? How strong were the respective political influences? These are only a few of the questions asked, the answers to these and others, can be found in this book.
In fact, during almost the whole book, Horch had been driving (and racing) motor cars. I have never come across such interesting descriptions of the quite normal day-to-day life of a motorist of that time. He doesn't glorify, but explains the occurences with an engineer-like objectivity. Indeed, thoroughly positive, however, those who read the book will no longer wish to have 'the good old days' back again, quite apart from the other terrible events of that time.
So, that's enough foreword. August Horch was born in 1868 in Winningen which lies on the Mosel river. Although only 10 kilometers away from Koblenz, thus not far from the river Rhine, Winningen was, at that time, a relatively conservative, reserved town. Horch once wrote, that the particular behavior of a friend, a parish priest, would have been unthinkable in his home town. Could it have been, that because the residents were almost exclusively Evangelical, that were trying to stand up to the predominance of the other Catholic villages in the area? At least, during his adolescence, the railways did appear in this Mosel-village.
Whatever the case may be, Horch grew up here and of course the basic attitude could often be noticed, e.g., as far as wealth was concerned, he was never prepared to rake in the money and would rather give than take. His forefathers had been blacksmiths for generations and he, although slightly built, was also one. Sometimes talent must compensate for that which nature didn't bestow on one.
The book actually begins at the time when he finished his 'apprenticeship', not quite sixteen years old, he left his home-town with very mixed feelings and as was usual in those days, he went journeying. The journeyman's travels were always depicted as something romantic and as a happy time indeed, a misinterpretation that Horch thoroughly refuted.
It was fortunate for him that he was used to a certain amount of severity from his home, because now it would serve him well. He applied at blacksmiths-shops and was almost always rejected, and in the few places where he was taken on he didn't earn much. Being taken on meant labouring from 6am till 7pm, indeed it guaranteed him no sleepless nights (sometimes he even fell asleep on the job!). All this for the sum of four Marks per week and meals. When on the road once more, he could earn 20 to 40 Pfennige plus meals, this however, was combined with several hours of really hard work.
At least in Germany and Austria there were hostels where the journeymen could spend the night. His travels led him further to the east. Sometimes, e.g., in Hungary, the going was so hard that he had to almost resort to begging for food and somewhere to sleep. Of course he saw a great deal and in contrast to most of his countrymen travelled abroad. Through his various places of employment, he also learnt a vast amount. However, his hopes of reaching Constantinople (Istanbul), were never realised.
Various illnesses, like Typhoid-fever and in the end, also Malaria, put an end to his plans. He was at least saved by being able to stay for a while with friends he had made on his journeys. Although his father had predicted that he would return after a fortnight, he stuck it out for four years. After recovering at home, he started studying in Mittweida (Saxony), which was difficult for him because he only had an elementary village education. He produced good examination results.
He first worked in ship-building in Rostock and because of his practical abilities, when the company went bankrupt he was passe on to Leipzig (Saxony). There he was occupied with Petroleum - and Paraffin engines, indeed, still in the dimensions of shipping. In 1886, during a demonstration of the first motorcycle by Hildebrand & Wolfmüller, he decided to end his quite successful career as a candidate for the job of works-manager and change to Benz & Co. in Mannheim. This went off well and in his book, we become aquainted with Carl Benz and his rapidly growing companyIt's quite possible that Horch had something to do with the growth in the company. However, to start with, he wasn't even permitted to work in the motor car department. In general, he describes Benz as a rock-solid engineer with a conservative approach. It was not always easy for the imaginative Horch, to be held back over and over again, nonetheless, Horch's book gives the impression of a lasting respect for Benz.