Everyday hero: The Mercedes-Benz Taxi
Gottlieb Daimler fulfilled the dream of his life. He installed his epoch-making invention – the lightweight, high-speed petrol engine and universal source of power for all types of means of transport on land, on water and in the air – into a carriage in 1886. However, hardly anybody took notice of these modest beginnings of general, individual mobility. Much the same happened the same year to Karl Benz in Mannheim with his patent motor car. But Daimler wouldn’t have been the visionary and, from today’s point of view, the clever businessman he was if he hadn’t succeeded in utilizing the opportunities inherent in his invention. The engine recorded its first economic success as a drive unit for boats. On this basis, the first manufacturing facilities worth mentioning developed in Cannstatt near Stuttgart. In November 1890, Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) was founded, a company that increasingly dedicated itself to automotive development.
First cab operation with a motorized Daimler carriage
Ten years after the invention of the automobile, the original single-cylinder 1.1 hp engine had already developed into a lively two-cylinder unit, available in several versions with up to eight hp, with quite an advanced four-speed belt transmission including a reverse gear and with a hair-raising top speed of 24 km/h (15 mph). In this situation, Daimler decided to place his rather successful motorized carriage production on a broader basis and launched his belt-driven car, model “N,” as a motorized cab.
On 26 June 1896, Friedrich August Greiner, a haulier and horse-drawn cab operator in Stuttgart, placed an order – number 1329 – with DMG for a landaulet version of the motorized Victoria carriage with taximeter – a car he received in May 1897.
So the world’s first motorized cab hit the road and was put into operation with an official police permit in June. At 5530 marks, the vehicle cost a small fortune. The price included the landaulet “half-top,” two splashguards, reverse gear and solid rubber tires.
Greiner had to rent the taximeter elsewhere, but that was customary at the time. In cold weather, the rear of the car could be heated – an exclusive and world-first feature in a passenger car. In fine weather, the fixed landaulet body components – the roof, the doors and the windscreen – could be removed, converting the “residual” body with its four seats into a Victoria again.
With this the first motorized cab, Greiner managed some 70 kilometres per day (43 miles) – clearly more than a horse-drawn cab, and suggesting lively demand and good profits. Customers felt that riding a cab without horses was smart, exciting and at times a little dangerous because of the thrilling speed. Until 1899, Greiner bought a total of seven cars for his “Daimler motorized cab business”.
Breathtaking ascent of motorized cabs
The success of the first motorized cab business aroused Daimler’s competitors. The owner of horse-drawn cabs in Stuttgart, a Mr. Dietz, ordered two Benz models from Benz & Cie. in Mannheim; the cars were approved for operation by no lesser person than Stuttgart’s Chief of Police after they had successfully passed the difficult test of climbing the steep ascent from the bottom of the Stuttgart valley up the “Weinsteige” street to Degerloch, with six people on board but without a hitch.
A diversified range of services developed quickly. Motorized cabs with up to six seats were hired by clubs for excursions, both out into the countryside and to other towns. Doctors and travelers used motorized cabs, their intriguing attraction lying in competent drivers, clad in elegant livery and available by day and by night, in every weather. In this way, those who couldn’t afford their own carriage or automobile but wished to express their progressiveness could be “somebody.”
In the following years, from 1899, Daimler taxi operations rapidly developed on the Jungfernstieg and in Friedrichstraße, the major boulevards in Hamburg and Berlin, respectively. Paris, London, Vienna and other cities followed. The journal “Der Motorwagen” (‘The Motor Vehicle’) of 1899 reported:
“A second motorized cab with taximeter will start operating in Berlin shortly. The vehicle has already arrived in Berlin and is now extensively tested in the city, first and foremost to familiarize the driver with the streets and the traffic in the capital. In terms of its design and dimensions, this new motorized cab is identical with the first cab, complying with the police headquarters’ specifications, which are based on the dimensions of public horse-drawn cabs. The new car has a petrol engine with six hp; it was also built by Daimler in Cannstatt and bought by haulier Thien.”
Equally remarkable is an excerpt from a letter written by design engineer Theodor Seyfried from Nürnberger Motorenbau (Nuremberg Engine Production Company) to his boss, Lucian Vogel, on 6 August 1899:
“[…] From Magdeburg, I drove to Berlin to visit Chief Building Officer Klose. In Berlin, a motorized cab business is in the process of being established, using motorized vehicles of Daimler, Benz and de Dion-Bouton. These vehicles are to be driven by elegant ladies for promotion purposes (following the French model), and by coincidence, I had the opportunity to attend the scrutineering of the cars. Without doubt, the best is the Daimler vehicle in which the Chief Building Officer kindly had me chauffeured through the city, at all possible speeds – and it went very well indeed. According to the driver [Greiner], a highly experienced man who lived in Cannstatt for many years and set up a motorized cab business in Stuttgart, this engine is, however, not yet reliable, though more reliable than the engines of the others (Benz, de Dion) […]” This last point was to change rapidly, however.