The History of the Automobile: Famous Automobile Manufacturers

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Karl Benz
-1844–1929, German engine designer, automobile engineer and manufacturer-

Karl Friedrich Benz (December 6, 1844 – April 4, 1929) was a German engine designer and automobile engineer, generally regarded as the inventor of the gasoline-powered automobile. Other German contemporaries, Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach, also worked independently on the same type of invention, but Benz patented his work first and, after that, patented all of the processes that made the internal combustion engine feasible for use in automobiles. In 1886 Karl Benz was granted a patent for his first engine, which he designed in 1878.

In 1885, Benz created the Motorwagen, the first commercial automobile, powered by a gasoline engine, which was his own four-stroke design. The automobile had three wheels, being steered by the front wheel and with the passengers and the engine being supported by the two wheels in the rear—some now refer to it as the Tri-Car.

Among other things, he invented the speed regulation system known also as an accelerator, ignition using sparks from a battery, the spark plug, the clutch, the gear shift, the water radiator, and the carburetor.

In 1893 Karl Benz also introduced the axle-pivot steering system in his Victoria model. The Benz Victoria was designed for two passengers and intended to be sold for a lower cost to encourage mass production of the automobile.

In 1896, Karl Benz designed and patented the first internal combustion flat engine with horizontally-opposed pistons, which continues to be the design principle for high performance engines used in motorsports. This type of motor also is called a boxer engine, or, in German, a boxermotor.

Benz founded the Benz Company, precursor of Daimler-Benz, Mercedes-Benz, and DaimlerChrysler. Before dying he would witness the explosion of automobile use during the 1920s, thanks to his inventions.

+ Early Life

Karl Benz (Related to the Benz family today) was born Karl Friedrich Michael Vaillant, in Karlsruhe, Baden (now part of Germany), to locomotive driver Johann George Benz and Josephine Vaillant. When Karl was two years old, his father was killed in a railway accident, and his name was changed to Karl Friedrich Benz in remembrance of his father.

Despite living near poverty, his mother strove to give him a good education. 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 Lyzeum. Next he studied in the Poly-Technical University under the instruction of Ferdinand Redtenbacher.

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. He graduated on July 9, 1864.

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 seven 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.

+ Benz’s Factory and His First Inventions (1871 to 1882)

In 1871, at the age of twenty-seven, Karl Benz joined August Ritter in launching a mechanical workshop in Mannheim, also dedicated to supplying construction materials: the Iron Foundry and Mechanical Workshop, later renamed, Factory for Machines for Sheet-metal Working.

The enterprise’s first year was a complete disaster. Ritter turned out to be unreliable and local authorities confiscated the business. Benz then bought out Ritter’s share in the company using the dowry provided by the father of his fiancée, Bertha Ringer.

In July 20, 1872 Benz and Ringer married, later having five children: Eugen (1873), Richard (1874), Clara (1877), Thilde (1882), and Ellen (1890).

Despite such business misfortunes, Karl Benz led in the development of new engines. To get more revenues, in 1878 he began to work on new patents. First, he concentrated all his efforts on creating a reliable gas two-stroke engine, based on Nikolaus Otto’s design of the four-stroke engine . A patent on the design by Otto had been declared void. Karl Benz finished his two-stroke engine on December 31, 1878, New Year’s Eve, and was granted a patent for it in 1879.

In 1895 Benz designed the first truck in history, with some of the units later modified by the first bus company: the Netphener, becoming the first buses in history.

By 1904 the sales of Benz & Cie. were up to 3480 automobiles and the company remained the leading manufacturer of automobiles. Along with continuing as a director of Benz & Cie., Karl Benz soon would found another company—with his son, Eugen—that was closely held within the family, manufacturing automobiles under another brand.

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