The first Automobile

  • January 29, 1886:  Karl Benz applied for a patent for his Motor Car
  • The vehicle’s holistic design makes it the first automobile
  • Mercedes-Benz remains oriented to this originality even today

The automobile celebrates its birthday on January 29. On this date in 1886 Karl Benz applied for a patent for his motorized vehicle. With the German Reich Patent No. 37435a, granted in November of the same year, his Patent Motor Car, as this three-wheeled vehicle has since been known, received official recognition as the world’s first automobile.

Carl Benz in his first Model I patent motor car from 1886, taken in Munich in 1925.

Carl Benz in his first Model I patent motor car from 1886, taken in Munich in 1925.

It was the individualized technology that secured the Benz Patent Motor Car this status. Unlike other inventors, Benz did not merely install an internal combustion engine into an existing coach chassis, thereby making it capable of autonomous motion (Greek/latin: auto/mobil). His design extended to the entire vehicle: It was quite clear to him that a vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine was subject to engineering principles quite different from those applying to a horse-drawn carriage.

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Benz created innovative technology with classic engineering methods: a small horizontal, single-cylinder four-stroke engine running on gasoline, electric ignition, carburetor, water-cooled radiator, steering and a tubular frame. With these features, the first motor car came into being in 1886.

Benz Patent Motor Car, 1886 – the world's first automobile.

On 29 January 1886, Carl Benz applied for a patent on his “gas-powered vehicle” (drawings of the design from the patent document).

It was the Benz Motor Car’s holistic design that made it worthy of a patent. The vehicle is thus an absolute original: all automobiles produced since that time stand in the tradition of the Patent Motor Car. Originality – a quality that constitutes the basis of the entire brand philosophy. This finds its unique and highly diversified expression in the New Mercedes-Benz Museum, opened in May 2006.

Bertha Ringer and Carl Benz, 1870

Bertha Ringer and Carl Benz, 1870

The further biography of the Patent Motor Car is history. Three vehicles were completed by 1888. One was secretly taken out by Bertha Benz, the inventor’s wife, who drove it with her sons 100 kilometers from Mannheim to Pforzheim; this journey earned the vehicle much publicity, and Benz sold a number of cars to customers as a result. A four-wheeled vehicle, the Benz “Victoria,” followed in 1893. This again incorporated numerous innovations, including double-pivot steering, which is still employed in today’s automobiles. And so it continues: with each new vehicle, the automobile improves just that much more – to this very day.


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