Germany Celebrates 125 Years of Automobile History
125 years ago, in 1886, Karl Benz succeeded in developing a three-wheeled vehicle that could be driven thanks to its combustion engine and electric ignition. For his part, Gottlieb Daimler may be regarded as the inventor of the first four-wheeled automobile. Both patents ushered in a new era of mobility. And that was not all – a new industry was born. Robert Bosch was involved from the start. Magnetos were his speciality.
Thanks are also due to Wilhelm Maybach for quite a number of automotive innovations. He was the technical director of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft and was the first to invent the honeycomb cooler and gears. Upon the suggestion of an Austrian businessman, he constructed a racing car with a 35-PS four-cylinder engine and two carburettors. In combination with his inventions, this was the car of the future at the time. Thanks are due to autodidact Nicolaus August Otto for enabling the four-stroke-cycle gas compression engine, better known as the “Otto engine”, to enter the world of automobiles. But Otto would perhaps not have come so far if the Belgian Etienne Lenoir had not previously invented the internal combustion engine that served him as a model.
The French could build cars too
That is not all. Even before Otto, a Frenchman named Alphonse Beau de Rochas was granted a patent in 1862 for his four-stroke engine, two years after Christian Reithmann had obtained a similar patent. Another Frenchman, Marquis Jules Félix Philippe Albert de Dion, initially invested in the construction of steam engines before developing combustion engines in cooperation with Georges Bouton from 1890 onwards. By 1901, he had brought 1,500 vehicles called “voiturettes” onto the market. Of all his inventions, the only one still surviving is the de Dion tube, which he patented in 1893. The two drive wheels are connected by a simple tube and the differential is firmly connected to the chassis.
Numerous inventions by the Renault brothers also went down in history. A whole number of revolutionary innovations are attributable to Louis Renault. For example, the cardan shaft, the screw-in spark plug, the turbo compressor, the seatbelt, the first V8 aircraft engine and the drum brake. The French car manufacturer produced its ten thousandth vehicle back in 1913, an achievement unique in Europe at the time. Only Ford in America achieved similar production figures.
Everyday cars and sophisticated brands
Yet at the beginning of his career, Henry Ford had no inkling that he would later be one of the world’s most important car pioneers. His had far surpassed his simple goal of developing a vehicle that could be mass produced. The industrialisation of car manufacturing is due to his perfection of assembly line production. His best-known vehicle was the Ford T (Tin Lizzy), which was advertised as being the world’s best-selling car until the advent of the VW Beetle. The founders of Rolls Royce, in contrast, long enjoyed the reputation of building “the best car in the world”, and the luxury car is still a symbol of quality and values. Porsche, too, is still a name that makes the hearts of car lovers around the world beat faster. But very few people know that Ferdinand Porsche’s four wheel hub motors, shown at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1900, amounted to the first four-wheel drive in history. At the same time, Porsche developed a four-wheel drive racing car and the first petrol-electric hybrid vehicle.
Celebrating automobile history
There were special events in many German cities to commemorate the pioneering achievement 125 years ago. One of the most spectacular was the exhibition CAR CULTURE – Medien der Mobilität at the Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe (ZKM). Artists approached the subject of the automobile from various angles, creating impressive works of art. Of course, in Stuttgart, the city where the automobile was born, this special occasion was celebrated with great enthusiasm. A two-day opening event took place in spring 2011 on Schlossplatz, the city’s most central square. The city of Mannheim staged a brilliant world premiere. Guests experienced a symphony entitled autosymphonic featuring an orchestra, a choir and 80 cars. This unique multimedia gesamtkunstwerk was only performed on one day and in one place.
is a media sociologist, freelance journalist and media consultant. She is co-editor of the blog muenchen-querbeet.de and copartner of the agency die-redaktionellen.de. She lives and works in Munich.
Translation: Eileen Flügel
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
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