These first three motorized vehicles proved that the internal combustion engine was capable of driving a human-controlled road vehicle. Until Daimler’s little engine, motors were huge, heavy, stationary affairs. Daimler’s design proved that an engine could be small, efficient and powerful, and that a motorized riding car could be a compact design, far smaller than huge horse-drawn carriages. As I said, the rest is history.
A year later, Ransom Olds of Lansing, Michigan developed a three-wheeled vehicle that became known as the Oldsmobile. By the turn of the century, 1900, Henry Ford was producing cars, and two brothers named Stanley, in Maine, designed a steam-powered vehicle that became known as the Stanley Steamer. Also, in South Bend, Indiana, The Studebaker Brothers modernized the family’s horse-wagon business by getting rid of the horses and adding a steering wheel and motors.
A lot has changed in 125 years. Many of those original automotive pioneers went out of business or merged — such as the merger between competitors Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz. What has not change is that the automobile is constantly being re-invented and improved. Besides entirely new car companies with names like Tesla and Fisker, there are entirely new technologies powering our vehicles, such as the hydrogen fuel cell, and the plug-in electric car is back, a century after disappearing.
The original Carl Benz three-wheel motorcar is on display at the German Transportation Museum in Munich, and a copy is on display at the Mercedes-Benz Museum, next to company headquarters in Stuttgart.