Today in Transportation History – 1900: The First Modern Automobile is Delivered

In southeast France, Emil Jellinek took delivery of a pioneering type of automobile at a railway station in the city of Nice. The German-born Jellinek was a longtime Vienna native who first lived in Nice as an Austrian diplomat. After his diplomatic career came to an end, Jellinek continued to spend a great deal of time in the French Riviera city and eventually established himself as a year-round resident there.

Jellinek, who also had a huge entrepreneurial streak, developed a strong enthusiasm for automobiles during his time in Nice. He learned everything he could about this nascent means of transportation and even sold automobiles to European aristocrats spending their vacations in the French Riviera. In addition, Jellinek purchased a number of automobiles for himself.

Jellinek was especially impressed by the models designed and manufactured by the German automotive firm Daimler Motors Corporation, or Daimler Motoren Gesellschatt (DMG), which had been founded by Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach. Jellinek became not only a proud owner of DMG automobiles but also a leading distributor for the company. He also started contacting DMG on a regular basis with his own feedback and ideas concerning the design of models, routinely combining his recommendations with provocative comments. These comments often irritated Daimler but somehow motivated Maybach to design even better and faster vehicles. “Your manure wagon has just broken down on schedule,” was one such comment from Jellinek. He asserted on at least one other occasion, “Your car is a cocoon and I want the butterfly.”

In April 1900 –  not long after Daimler passed away – Jellinek reached an agreement with DMG in which he would pay a large sum of money if Maybach designed a new kind of sports car meeting certain requirements. Jellinek asserted, “I don’t want a car for today or tomorrow, it will be the car of the day after tomorrow.” Jellinek also stipulated that this new automobile should be named Mercédès after his 10-year-old daughter.

Over the next several months, Jellinek kept close tabs on the development of this automobile via both telegrams and personal visits. When he received the first of these models on December 22 of that year, Jellinek was able to confirm once and for all that the vehicle – known as the Mercedes 35 HP – contained several key innovative features that he asked for in his specifications. These features included a lightweight high-performance engine; a pressed-steel frame; and a lower-than-average center of gravity that set it apart from the higher bodies that characterized many of the era’s automobiles and were more prone to overturning.

For these reasons and others, the Mercedes 35 HP is widely considered to be the first “modern” automobile. This vehicle also has the distinction of being the first one to use “Mercedes” in its name. Mercedes was legally registered as a trade name in 1902. In 1926, Mercedes-Benz was first applied to all vehicles manufactured by a new company called Daimler-Benz AG; this company resulted from the merger of DMG and Benz & Cie. that same year.

For more information on the development of the Mercedes 35 HP, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercedes_(marque) and http://www.emercedesbenz.com/Apr08/17_001109_The_History_Behind_The_Mercedes_Benz_Brand_And_The_Three_Pointed_Star.html.

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