Daimler riding car

Daimler's riding car, 1885Automobile with two wheels: on 29 August 1885 Gottlieb Daimler filed a patent for his “riding car”

  • The first road-going vehicle with combustion engine controlled by a human being
  • The dream of automotive travel becomes reality
  • In 1886 Carl Benz invents the three-wheeled Patent Motor Car, Gottlieb Daimler the four-wheeled Motor Carriage

The birth of a car as we know it today took place in 1886. Independently of one another, the two founding fathers of the company now known as Daimler AG, Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler, invented a vehicle with internal combustion engine – Benz his three-wheeled Patent Motor Car, Daimler the four-wheeled Motor Carriage. However, the previous year, in late summer 1885, Gottlieb Daimler’s two-wheeled “riding car,” also equipped with an internal combustion engine, travelled under its own power. In the original sense of the term, therefore, it could also be considered an automobile, since the word derived from the Greek auto (“self”) and the Latin mobilis (“mobile”). Only later did the word automobile establish itself as a generic term for multi-track vehicles.

Original blueprint of the riding car

Original blueprint of the riding car

In the sum of its features, the riding car was the most important precursor to individual mobility, thereafter rendered possible by the advent of the automobile. It was proof on wheels that the internal combustion engine was capable of powering a road vehicle –and that a human being could fully control it. Indeed, in the case of the riding car, by sitting astride the engine he was seen to take complete control of the machine with the objective of locomotion. By means of just a few levers he was able to set the vehicle in motion. The riding car therefore gave an important and lasting signal of what could be achieved.

In 1885, the so-called riding car was built in Gottlieb Daimler's workshop as a test unit to prove the suitability of Daimler's and Wilhelm Maybach's gas or petroleum engine for everyday use. The photo shows the Gottlieb Daimler Memorial in Bad Cannstatt with the Daimler riding car which is today regarded as the world's first motorcycle.

In 1885, the so-called riding car was built in Gottlieb Daimler’s workshop as a test unit to prove the suitability of Daimler’s and Wilhelm Maybach’s gas or petroleum engine for everyday use. The photo shows the Gottlieb Daimler Memorial in Bad Cannstatt with the Daimler riding car which is today regarded as the world’s first motorcycle.

The compactness of the riding car also sent out another important signal, for it used the smallest and most powerful combustion engine available capable of being fitted to a two wheeled vehicle – it would have been impossible at the time to build a smaller vehicle than the riding car equipped with combustion engine.

Patent specification number DRP 34926 for Gottlieb Daimler's and Wilhelm Maybach's gas or petroleum engine

Patent specification number DRP 34926 for Gottlieb Daimler’s and Wilhelm Maybach’s gas or petroleum engine

Daimler “riding car,” 1885. The world’s first motorcycle

Daimler “riding car,” 1885. The world’s first motorcycle

The most important prerequisite for the riding car, simultaneously the world’s first motorcycle, was Gottlieb Daimler’s four-stroke, single-cylinder engine, which he registered for patent on 3 April 1885. This was a milestone in the history of technology, since the unit was small and powerful compared with other combustion engines of the day for stationary operation. Daimler’s priority, on the other hand, was the engine’s mobile application. He applied for a patent for his riding car with “gas or petroleum engine,” as it was described in the patent specification, on 29 August 1885 (German Patent No. DRP 36423 was awarded on 11 August 1886).

Daimler “riding car,” 1885. The world’s first motorcycle

The riding car was proof on wheels that the internal combustion engine was capable of driving a human-controlled road vehicle. Moreover, it provided an impressive demonstration of the size and power of the Daimler engine. For the riding car was a highly compact vehicle, and therefore sent out an important message about the large and unwieldy stationary internal combustion engines of the day.

Two inventors – one idea

Wilhelm Maybach astride the “riding car”

Wilhelm Maybach astride the “riding car”

The founding fathers of Daimler AG, Gottlieb Daimler in Cannstatt and Carl Benz in Mannheim, were working on an identical problem at the end of the 19th century – the invention of a vehicle that would give man the ability to travel without reliance on being pulled by a horse. They worked away independently, without knowing what the other was doing – and one can only assume the two had never met. Their places of work were separated by a distance of 120 kilometres – at least a whole day’s journey in the late 19th century.

Gottlieb Daimler’s workshop in the garden house of his villa in Taubenheimstrasse in Cannstatt

They both reached their objective almost simultaneously, though with different solutions: Benz built his three-wheeled Patent Motor Car, for which he was awarded the German Patent No. DRP 37435 on 29 January 1886. And shortly afterwards Daimler presented the first four-wheeled motor vehicle, a carriage chassis in which he had integrated the combustion engine that had proved so effective in the riding car.

Replica of the riding car in front of the Gottlieb Daimler Memorial in Bad Cannstatt

Replica of the riding car in front of the Gottlieb Daimler Memorial in Bad Cannstatt

Daimler pursued the vision of motorising a whole range of vehicles, on land, on water and in the air. He demonstrated the engine’s potential for universal application, for example, by fitting it in a boat in 1887, and in an airship designed by Friedrich Hermann Wölfert in 1888. Neither was Benz idle: by 1887 he had also completed a first motorboat, and aero engines followed later.  But by this time, both inventors were already involved in the series production of automobiles.

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