We would like to describe the history of Mercedes, not from the aspect of those who made the manual contribution, but from the side of those who did the decision making. One could also go into the workshops of the turn of the century and have a look at the noise, the hardship and the health dangers, e.g., the sanding and painting processes which took several weeks (!). Perhaps another time, right now we'll stay with the inventors and the directors.
In the beginning, it's wasn't the history of Mercedes at all, their history began only after the turn of the century, it's also not that of Daimler-Benz, because that merger only took place in 1926. Until then they were two companies, independent of each other, although their namesakes in Mannheim and Stuttgart grew up only 100 kms from each other, they probably never did meet personally. Their education was, in the broadest sense, quite similar. Later, Karl Benz was the first of the two to become self-employed, during this time Daimler was still on the road and among other things, was occupied for a number of years with Otto in Cologne-Deutz.
Gottlieb Daimler was 10 years older than Karl Benz and died in 1900 at the age of 66, 29 years earlier than Benz. Both were passionate inventors and both had the necessary perserverance and indeed, also sometimes the stubbornness. However, Benz was more interested in developing vehicles, whereas Daimler was more interested in the engine as a power source for all conceivable purposes. He could rely on the support of his most important assistant, Wilhelm Maybach. Both inventors also had big problems with their financiers. Here it was a case of the, not always called for, inflexibility of the founder against the, just as damaging, desire to make a quick profit.
At this point we'll keep it brief, because you can read up on the lives of Daimler, Benz and Maybach separately. The comparison between the two companies is interesting. Benz would become, up to the turn of the century, through the sales of motor vehicles, the biggest car producer in the world. Models like the Viktoria would be sold Europe-wide and even exported overseas. The Daimler-Motor-Company, in the meantime a public corporation, became, through the withdrawal of Daimler and Maybach, less important. The talk, in 1895, was that they were finished.
Only after the English licencees forced the pair to return, did the results of their inventions start to catch on. In 1900, the Consul-General Jelinek, stepped into the picture. He pushed the company to produce higher engine performance. Right up to today, his daughter Mercedes, in real life a rather homely figure, would have the vehicles named after her. The Consul was able to win over the wealthy on France's Mediterranean coast for the marque, which later led a number of like-minded people in Europe to follow suit. Jellinek also had something to do with Maybach changing to Paul Daimler.
He got on with Maybach particularly well, probably because Maybach mostly did his bidding and at this point in time, one innovation was followed by the next in the motor car manufacturing world. Looking at the cars from 1900, one could hardly recognise the previous ones. The high-wheeled coaches with the engine in the rear had given way to modern motor cars. Basically, they were constructed similar to the cars of today, with the engine up front and rear-wheel drive. In particular, the tragic loss of a works-driver, brought about the distinct lowering of the center of gravity.
Benz on the other hand, rejected the enormous increase in performance, he placed a higher value on solidity. Indeed, the company which he had founded, brought the powerful Blitzen Benz onto the market in 1909, he however, had already left his own company three years earlier. At this time, the Daimler-Motor-Company was also undergoing personnel changes. Daimler's eldest son Paul, who after finishing his studies, had gathered four years of experience at Austro-Daimler, replaced Karl Maybach, who was pushed out in 1906. Due to the fact that the Daimler family no longer owned many shares in the company, one has to assume prowess, rather than protection.
External situations were influencing both companies even more than before. Among these were the first world war up to 1918, and afterwards the very bad time during the great inflation of 1923. Before Paul Daimler was also replaced by Ferdinand Porsche, he had installed his famous vertical bevel-drive in the Daimler engines and had done the preliminary work on the famous 540K compressor models. Porsche was responsible for their final breakthrough.
The times had not improved all that much. It was not the first time that a bank initiated the merger of companies. In this case, it was the Deutsche Bank who was the main creditor and who played an important part in the merger between Daimler and Benz. The bank would maintain this dominance, through having chairmanship of the supervisory board, throughout the history of the merged company. The company-name was kept for the next seventy years. The somewhat lower valued Benz share of the company now built only trucks instead of motor cars. The more advanced Diesel development there, replaced that of Daimler.
It was now a matter of getting over the 1929 Wall Street Crash. (Great Bank Crash). Indeed, then they started to climb. After all, the company was favoured by Hitler. Only once or twice was he seen in an open VW, otherwise, since being released from custody in 1924, he was always driven in a Mercedes. The first one was a gift from the piano- maker Bechstein. After 1933 (assumption of power) enormous amounts of sponsor money flowed in, other manufacturers (e.g. Auto-Union) were also supported.
They used this sponsorship wisely. The Silver Arrows (Silberpfeile) were drubbing the Italians, who up to now, were accustomed to success. They were now the third biggest producer in Germany, and were held back only by the second biggest, the also successfully merged Auto-Union. Ferdinand Porsche, who after quarreling with them, left Daimler-Benz in 1928 to run his own company, and was now working for them. The duels between the Auto-Union racing cars and those of Mercedes, would dominate the racing- and record-breaking events of the 1930s.
Wilhelm Kissel and Hans Nibel were two guarantors of these successes. Both came from the company, Benz & Cie and played a large part in the merger and the further development of the company. Although Nibel nominally had equal rights, he played second fiddle to Porsche and in 1929, became his successor. Thus, the most famous compressor-models (500 K of 1932) and the Silver Arrows fell into his area of responsibility until 1935. However, he also inherited the, born out of necessity, rear engine car, from which indeed, the Type 170 was derived.
Kissel was also appointed to the board of directors and in 1930 he became the chairman. It was principally he, who argued with Porsche, and he discovered unfinished construction orders. He was also an engineer and mainly responsible for the production. As the top production man, he had to observe, how the 30 test-VWs were assembled, in his own factory. He probably considered, because of the war, the forced take-over of Opel, as opposed to the Mercedes three-tonner construction, to be a defeat.
Wilhelm Haspel conducted the company during the war and from 1948 onwards, after being cleared of being a Nazi. After a period of rubble-clearing, the development started up again. At least, through the Second World War and the following dismantling, they did not lose as much works-capacity as did Opel and BMW. In the 1950s, self supporting box-type bodies replaced the pre-war models. Factories abroad were developed. At the same time, legendary cars like the 300 SL with direct petrol injection appeared. They were also once more successful in motor sport.
At first, as far as the models were concerned, only the important series were kept. Only the front-ends, depending on the amount of cylinders, were of various lengths. At the end of the 1960s the splitting took place, and again 15 years later. Thus, the C-, E- and S-Class were developed. The company, under Bela Barenyi, was praised for it's safety reasearch which, from 1961 onwards, was integrated into the serial production.
From now on, the designers instead of the constructors, were in the limelight. They dropped the Americanization in favour of a more simple design. This began with the smaller models, but would spread, up to the crisis of 1974, to the larger vehicles. Since the 1990s they strived to provide understatement. Another advantage of the change in design: they were able to produce better wind-resistance results than the famous sports-car builders.
You may remember us mentioning that Benz took over the mainly truck construction side. After the war, the Opel licence was added. As the motor car turnover was flourishing, one could now afford to buy up other companies, e.g., Hanomag. Beside the old Benz-works in Mannheim, the largest factory in Europe for utility vehicles was developed in Worth. In time, with uncanny meticulousness, all the gaps were closed and the existing models were brought up to date. Their competitors accused them of price-dumping and cross-subsidization, which left MAN as the only other German manufacturer. 06/11