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World's First Car Celebrates 120th Birthday

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Mercedes-Benz Pioneer Invented Motor Car That Changed Everything

MONTVALE, N.J., Jan. 13 -- The automobile celebrates its 120th birthday on January 29. On this date in 1886, Karl Benz applied for a patent for his "vehicle with gas engine operation." Patent DRP 37435 for the Benz Patent Motor Car granted in November of the same year is regarded as the birth certificate of the automobile. In later years the Benz organization and the company formed by fellow automotive pioneer Gottlieb Daimler would merge to form Daimler-Benz. Karl Benz is, therefore, credited as co-founder not only of Mercedes-Benz but also the automotive industry itself.

Seven months after Benz filed his patent for the automobile, Daimler with his master engineer Wilhelm Maybach attached his Daimler engine to a four-wheeled coach producing the first "horseless" carriage. Following Daimler's death in 1900, his largest distributor, Emil Jellinek, asked Maybach to design a car more advanced than any other; it will be named for Jellinek's daughter, Mercedes. The resulting Mercedes of 1901 defined the car as we essentially know it today.

Unlike other inventors, Benz did not merely install an internal combustion engine into an existing coach chassis. 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.

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 tubular frame. With these features, the first motor car came into being in 1886. The vehicle was an absolute original. All automobiles produced since that time stand as heirs of the Patent Motor Car.

The rest of the Patent Motor Car story belongs to history. Three vehicles were completed by 1888. One of them was secretly taken out by Bertha Benz, the inventor's wife, who drove it with her sons 53 miles from Mannheim to Pforzheim. Thus Bertha Benz became the "first woman driver." The journey gained much publicity for the vehicle, 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 with the introduction of the 2007 Mercedes-Benz S-Class which exemplifies the essence of generations of innovative technology from Mercedes-Benz, the world's first car company.

In addition to the original patent for the automobile, further Mercedes-Benz "firsts" include: development of the safety car body with rigid passenger cell and front and rear crumple zones (1951); electronic anti-lock brake system "ABS" (1978); and Electronic Stability Program "ESP" (1995).

About Mercedes-Benz USA

Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA), headquartered in Montvale, New Jersey, is responsible for the sales, marketing and service of all Mercedes-Benz and Maybach products in the United States. In 2005, MBUSA achieved an all-time sales record of 224,421 new vehicles, setting the highest sales volume ever in its history and achieving 12 consecutive years of sales growth. More information on MBUSA and its products can be found on the Internet at and .


NOTE TO EDITORS: This story and high-resolution photos can be downloaded from the MBUSA news-media website at