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29 August 1885: Gottlieb Daimler patents the first motorcycle

This week, we tell you about the origins of a means of transport which was as revolutionary as its inventor.



When Gottlieb Daimler was born on the 17th of March 1834 in Schorndorf, 20 miles from Stuttgart, if his pastry chef father had been told he was going to become a legend of industry, the new “sugar daddy” would have had eyes as wide as saucers. However, contrary to the cookie cutter cliché that children generally follow in their parents’ footsteps, the young man started work as an apprentice mechanic before going back to study engineering at the Polytechnic School of Stuttgart, where he became acquainted with a certain Wilhelm Maybach. They were to stay together for good.

Thus, when he obtained a position as a draughtsman with an industrial motor manufacturer in Karlsruhe in 1869, Gottlieb quickly had his friend hired by the company and developed a coal gas engine with him. The director of the site was a certain Nikolaus Otto, who is none other than the inventor of the industrial internal combustion engine. Otto noticed him and promoted him to the position of technical director in 1872 before joining him in founding Deutz AG, a stationary gas engine manufacturing company. Gottlieb freed himself from this guardianship and left the company in 1882, taking Wilhelm with him, the latter of course having followed him in this adventure. Using the money obtained from the sale of his shares, he created a design office with him in Cannstatt, near Stuttgart. History was on the road to being made.



This was indeed the setting in which, in 1884, the two men invented the Daimler Type P, the world’s first one-cylinder gas engine for industrializable vehicles. "Vehicles" in the plural, because the two friends took pleasure in associating it – successfully – with all sorts of land, sea and air prototypes: cars, boats, trams, but also an airship, a sleigh and even a fire pump, they tried everything! The future three-branch logo of the Daimler-Mercedes-Benz company, incidentally, represents these three elements. 
Thus it was that the first motorcycle with an internal combustion engine, the Daimler Reitwagen, literally meaning "riding car" in German, was created and was patented on the 29th of August 1885. This was in fact a simple balance bike on which the two partners fitted the engine they had invented. In November, Paul Daimler, Gottlieb’s son, then aged 17, successfully completed a 3 km return round trip with a mind-blowing peak speed of 12 km/h - which caused the engine to overheat dangerously and set fire to the saddle… Although the original prototype of this first motorcycle was unfortunately destroyed in a fire which hit the factory in 1903, numerous replicas have been built and can be admired in several museums around the world.

In 1890, Gottlieb founded Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft and thus became an independent manufacturer. Wilhelm was appointed as the company’s chief engineer. After leaving, following disagreements with the other partners, and then rejoining the company, the two men were to be the source of numerous revolutionary inventions and patents. When he died at only 65 on the 6th of March 1900, Gottlieb Daimler had launched an empire which was to become Daimler-Mercedes-Benz after its merger with Benz & Cie in 1926. As for Wilhelm Maybach, after resigning in 1907 from the company, which had relegated him from the position of director to “chief inventor”, he successfully founded the Zeppelin and car engine construction company Maybach with his son. This company was to be bought up by Daimler-Mercedes-Benz in 1960. Even after death, the two friends’ fates remained inextricably linked…



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