Automotive history: How Mercedes got its name.
120 years ago, the name of an eleven-year-old girl became the epitome of cars and the first luxury car brand in the world.
On April 2, 1900, Gottlieb Daimler named the vehicles produced by his Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (Daimler Motor Company) as Mercédès, after the daughter of Daimler’s biggest customer.
120 years later, in 2020, It remains the only automotive company named for a female.
Emil Jillenek was an Austrian businessman who lived in Nice, and one of the first to recognize the importance of racing events for this new contraption called the motor car.
The first vehicle with this melodious Spanish name – the Mercedes 35 PS – caused a sensation at the Nice race week as early as March 1901.
The historical importance of the first racecar vehicle design has prompted Mercedes-Benz to create a futuristic Vision Simplex.
Mercedes 35 PS
The buzz was both for the advanced technology which allowed it to win several races there, as well as for its exceptionally elegant design, which was revolutionary for its time.
Paul Meyan, then Secretary General of the Automobile Club of France, said after the race week: “We have entered the Mercedes era”.
From then on, the curved “Mercédès” lettering adorned the radiators of Daimler passenger cars.
The name was registered as a trademark on June 23, 1902 and legally protected on September 26, 1902.
The Mercedes-Benz Era
The brand name was changed to Mercedes-Benz after the merger of the Daimler and Benz companies in June 1926.
Gottlieb Daimler and Dr. Karl Benz were competitors in the early days. It was a shotgun marriage, orchestrated by German banks in the economic-challenged days after World War One.
The goals were to save money by consolidating R&D and manufacturing, and also to make wider use of Daimler’s talented engineer and chief designer, Ferdinand Porsche, who designed the vehicle which became the VW Beetle.
But that’s a whole other story.
For 120 years, the company now known as Mercedes-Benz has been a symbol of combining beautiful, elegant design with performance and technology.
Bertha Benz, Automotive Pioneer
To this day, Mercedes-Benz is the only automotive brand that bears a female name, but the success of the “horseless carriage” also belongs to Bertha Benz, wife of Daimler’s chief competitor at the time, Karl Benz.
“Women like Mercédès Jellinek or Bertha Benz shaped the success story of Mercedes-Benz from the start,” says Bettina Fetzer, head of Marketing Mercedes-Benz AG.
“With our She’s Mercedes initiative, founded in 2015, we are building on this tradition for our numerous female customers around the world.
The wife of Dr. Benz, she is the first documented woman driver, from a trip she took with a few of her children to visit her mother, their grandmother, in 1888.
That 130-mile drive also was the first documented “road trip”.
Read more about it in my article on the Bertha Benz road trip into history.
Since 2016, Mercedes-Benz has consistently been the world’s most valuable luxury automobile brand and is the only European brand among the top 10 in the “Best Global Brands 2019” ranking by Interbrand, the renowned U.S. brand consulting company.
All photos courtesy Mercedes-Benz Museum, Stuttgart, Germany