Historical Background

The Automobile

In 1882 a certain gentleman named Gottlieb Daimler aimed at beginning to develop a small fast-running motor-engine for land, sea and air vehicles, in a sort of private experimental workshop in Cannstatt, near Stuttgart , in south-western Germany . Only a year later, together with Wilhelm Maybach, a one-cylinder, four-stroke motor engine became patented. In 1885 they built this motor into a so-called ‘riding vehicle’ – the first motorbike had been born.

Also in 1885 Carl Friedrich Benz constructed the first “automobile”, in that he created the 3-wheel vehicle with a motor engine which had electrical ignition. He drove this vehicle for the first time in Mannheim one year later. It had 0,8 hp, top speed was 9,94 mph.

In the same year the Daimler- and Maybach-developed motor was built into a four-wheeled self driving carriage, and this way the four-wheel car came onto the streets.

With their two sons, Berta Benz, (wife of Carl Friedrich Benz) drove her husband´s car the 66 miles stretch from Mannheim to Pforzheim, without her husband´s permission, on August 5th, 1888. With this first overland journey she attributed incredible success to the history of the automobile.

Advancing industrialism increased rapidly, with many stormy, technical developments. Ancient dreams of flying were becoming reality.

Early postcard showing a Farman airplane.
A machine that was used in early German military services, and which we will see later on.

The “First International Automobile Exhibition” opened its gates on September 3rd, 1899 in Berlin . This was on the drillground of the 2nd Foot Regiment, and became the occasion of founding the German Automobile Club in the same year. 120 exhibitors showed around 150 motor vehicles. 81 came from Germany , 4 from Belgium , 14 from France and 2 from Switzerland [1]. By the end of the Exhibition there had been about 100,000 visitors[2]. There was a surplus of about Reichsmark 10.000 – a situation that today´s international exhibitors should find exemplary.

In 1901 the first then-known “Huppe”-signal was introduced in Prussia . Since this time, the form of a horn has become one of the unmistakable signs of a motorcar.

Wilhelm II, according to an often-told story, apparently had reservations about the “stinking machine”, as he called it. An anecdote recalls that he was riding in a carriage, in a foursome, near his castle in the autumn of 1902. He was approached by a Major of the Berlin Train detachement who was driving a Benz automobile. The Kaiser called a halt, and commanded the Major to a competition. Showing respect, the Major gave His Majesty several hundred metres lead, but even then rushed by, loudly, passing him. This is supposed to have given the German Kaiser a change of opinion.

Today it is hardly impossible to prove this nice little story. Records of that time, however, tell us that the first automobiles came into the Imperial stable in 1903, and that Wilhelm II owned 23 vehicles for his personal use – of which 20 were passenger cars. These vehicles had special 4-tone horns, which distinguished the approach of a ‘noble’ or ‘highest’ vehicle.

The Imperial motor cars were ivory-coloured, with dark blue and golden stripes. The Prussian emblems were displayed on the doors and rear of the vehicles. The Imperial train of the Kaiser were coloured similarly.

In 1911 a Benz racing car had already reached the amazing record of 228 km/h, that´s 142 mph! An incredible speed, that technical development in those few years impressively illustrates. Registered cars in Germany rose to the number of 55,000 in 1914.

Technical innovations are and were always looked at from a military point of view. With this in mind, the automobile reflected not only the spirit of the times in technical progress, but also the Prussian/German doctrine which after the war-conquest against France in 1870/71 saw its attack as the only permissible and honourable form of war leadership.



The German Imperial Automobile Corps and its daggers - By Vic Diehl and H.Hampe