Gottlieb Daimler was born in Schorndorf on March 17, 1834. In addition to his studies at the Schorndorf “Lateinschule,” he attended a drawing school which only gave lessons on Sundays. Daimler’s attendance at the school was proof of his early interest in engineering. In 1848 he served an apprenticeship as a gunsmith in Schorndorf under the watchful eye of the master craftsman Riedel, which he completed by successfully making a double-barreled pistol. After a period abroad which he spent studying mechanical engineering, he attended the technical college in Stuttgart form 1857 to 1859. At the end of 1863 and after undertaking various technical jobs he was made a manager of the Bruderhaus mechanical engineering factory in Reutlingen where he was also to meet Wilhelm Maybach in 1865.
On November 9, 1867 he married Emma Kurtz from Maulbronn. In 1869 he became workshop manager of a mechanical engineering company in Karlsruhe before joining Otto and Langen in 1872 at Gasmotorenfabrik Deutz, where he worked as technical manager until he left in 1882. That was where he familiarized himself with the four-stroke principle pioneered by Otto.
The experimental workshop in Cannstatt
In 1882 Daimler purchased a villa on Taubenheimstrasse in Cannstatt for 75,000 goldmarks which he could afford through his work in Deutz and thanks to the settlement he received from the company. There was a greenhouse in the villa’s extensive garden to which Daimler soon added a brick extension in order to create an experimental workshop. He also took this opportunity to widen the garden paths to allow vehicle access. Daimler’s basic plan was to create gasoline-only engines and to use them to power every conceivable type of vehicle -on land, water and in the air. He naturally returned to Otto’s four-stroke technology as the basis for his engines. However, the complex ignition mechanism of the engine did not allow for high engine speeds. After intensive testing, Daimler was granted a patent for an uncooled, heat insulated engine with unregulated hot-tube ignition.
The Patent DRP 28 022 was a masterpiece in terms of wording as, strictly speaking, it adhered to Otto’s four-stroke principle. The Patent 28 022 sparked a bitter struggle in the patents court involving the Deutz company after Daimler refused it free rights to use the unregulated hot-tube ignition system. However, the high court upheld Daimler’s claim after he made a personal appearance at the hearing. At the end of 1883, the first test engine was put into operation. It had been cast in the Kurtz bell-foundry and appeared in their books as a “small model engine.”
Thanks to hot-tube ignition and using an exhaust valve regulated by curved groove control the engine reached 600 rpm, easily outstripping the performance of all previous engines whose speeds were limited to a maximum 120-180 rpm. The next test engine was known as the “grandfather clock” on account of its appearance. The output of the first 1884 version was 1 hp at 600 rpm. This design, which concentrated on offering a light-weight, compact product, paved the way for Daimler and Maybach to install an engine in a motor vehicle. A wooden-framed motorcycle, also described as a “riding bike” or “riding vehicle” was used as the first test object.
The one-cylinder engine, which had been further reduced in size from the “grandfather clock” model, was built into the vehicle under the driver’s seat. On August 29, 1885 Daimler was awarded Patent 36423 for this “Vehicle with gas or petroleum drive machine,” in the words of the patent specification.
By the spring of 1886, Daimler had already ordered a vehicle, described as an “American” carriage, from the Stuttgart firm W. Wimpff & Sohn. Manufactured in Hamburg and assembled in Stuttgart, the vehicle was delivered on August 28 and secretly taken to Daimler’s house, allegedly as a birthday present for Daimler’s wife. Old documents show that Daimler paid 775 Marks for the carriage. The engine, fitted -along with the drawbar steering – under the instructions of Maybach in the “Maschinenfabrik Esslingen” mechanical engineering plant, generated 1.5 hp and was built according to the grandfather clock template. The engine’s power was transferred by belts. This Daimler “motorized carriage” represented the world’s first four-wheeled automobile.
The next test vehicle after the motor carriage was a boat. Patent DRP 39367 refers to a “fitting designed to operate the propeller shaft of a ship using a gas or petroleum drive machine.” In June 1887 Daimler moved to new production facilities on the Seelberg hill. Daimler employed 23 carefully selected workers and his secretary Karl Linck took over responsibility for the accounts and correspondence. A workforce of this size was, of course, far too large for a purely testing operation and costs exhausted a large slice of Daimler’s personal fortune. Furthermore, the profits being made at the time, mostly from the successful boat engine business, were not sufficient to balance the books.
The tight economic situation forced Daimler to seek partners. This resulted in the arrival of the managing director of Köln-Rottweiler Pulverfabrik, Max v. Duttenhofer and a friend of his, Wilhelm Lorenz. On November 28, 1890 a joint-stock company was founded under the name of “Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft” and with the aim of continuing the activities carried out at Seelberg. Under the terms of the consortium agreement Maybach was to be appointed technical director of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft. However, the terms of contract were not acceptable to an expert of Maybach’s calibre. This resulted in Maybach leaving the company on February 11, 1891. At the center of the disagreement which developed between Duttenhofer and Daimler were product-related issues.
Whilst Duttenhofer’s priorities lay in manufacturing stationary engines, Daimler’s vision was one of vehicle production. As it became clear that the impasse could not be resolved, Daimler resorted to more cunning methods. The development side of the business was to continue independently of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft and with the participation of Maybach. This plan allowed Daimler to kill two birds with one stone as he would have been forced to pay Maybach a not inconsiderable sum had his contract been terminated. For the second time Maybach’s home, now at Königstrasse 44 in Cannstatt, had to be pressed into service as a design office. In the one-and-a-half years up to 1892 design work was carried out here.
In the fall of 1892 Maybach rented out the garden hall of what was formerly the Hotel Hermann on Daimler’s behalf. What once formed the backdrop to formal gatherings was now the scene of automobile research. The patents for the designs thought out here were registered in Maybach’s name as a cover. Daimler merely looked after the financial side of the venture, Maybach enjoying a free reign as far as design was concerned. Among Maybach’s most significant inventions of this time were the Phoenix engine and the spray-nozzle carburetor which replaced the surface carburetor.
DMG found economic success hard to come by after Maybach’s departure. It says a great deal that Daimler and Maybach’s inventions were first used commercially abroad, France in particular. From 1890 the only engines that the two automobile pioneers Panhard and Levassor built into their vehicles were the two-cylinder V-type engines developed by Maybach, the license rights for which they had acquired from Daimler in 1889.
The final years
Gottlieb Daimler had long been suffering from a heart compliant. In winter 1892/93 he fell ill again and was sent to Florence in the spring to recuperate. There he was reunited with Lina Hartmann, née Schwend, the widow of a hotelier in the Tuscan city who he had been introduced to previously by friends in Cannstatt. His first wife Emma had died on 28.07.1889 and the sophisticated Lina Hartmann, 22 years his junior, made such an impression on him that he decided to marry her. The wedding took place on July 8, 1893 in Schwäbisch Hall and they had their honeymoon in Chicago where Daimler seized the opportunity to visit the world exhibition being held in the city at the time.
Daimler’s health problems started to have a detrimental effect on his handling of DMG. For example, in 1893 he rejected an offer to acquire a further 102 shares which would have guaranteed him a majority holding. Indeed, this may well have been because he himself had doubts about the future prospects of the company. The increasingly tense relationship between Daimler on the one side and Lorenz and Duttenhofer on the other eventually led to them effectively excluding Daimler as a shareholder, by demanding that debts of 400,000 Marks be settled that Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft had run up with the bank. They threatened Daimler with bankruptcy if he failed to do this, and gave him only one other option: to sell them his stake in the company and the rights to his inventions for a price of 66,666 Marks.
In order to avert bankruptcy, Daimler reluctantly agreed. However, jettisoning Daimler did not bring the company any more luck, technical success evaporated and the balance sheets were making increasingly depressing reading. Maybach turned down an offer made to him in 1895 by Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft saying that he would never return without Daimler. Duttenhofer, not exactly an emotional character in his business dealings, would never have agreed to this had a new set of circumstances not forced a change of heart in the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft management. Thanks to the Maybach-designed Phoenix engine, Daimler engines had gained international prestige and a group of British industrialists fronted by Frederick R. Simms were looking to acquire the license rights to this engine for Britain. They were prepared to pay a stunning 350,000 Marks, on the condition that Daimler returned to the company. The Supervisory Board had to swallow its pride and agree to the deal as they simply could not refuse a sum so high given the precarious financial situation the company found itself in.
The return of Daimler and Maybach brought about an undreamed-of reversal in fortunes. Daimler’s stake in the company worth 200,000 Marks was returned to him along with an additional 100,000 Mark bonus. His position on the Board was one of expert advisor and general inspector, whilst Maybach was appointed on a contract from November 8, 1895 as technical director of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft. He also received the shares worth 30,000 Marks that he was entitled to through his 1882 contract with Daimler. For Maybach, the main priority was to rebuild the competitiveness of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft on a basis of technical progress and reliable products. An important basis was provided by the designs developed in the Hotel Hermann. Daimler himself was to stay another four-and-a-half years until his death on March 6, 1900.