One of the final stops on my adventure through Germany is the home of the Mercedes-Benz Automobile Company in Stuttgart. Stuttgart has headquarters of two famous German automotive companies, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche. I conducted a full day of research at the Mercedes-Benz complex. The area includes the company’s global headquarters, main factory, and world famous museum.
When I arrived at Neckarplatz Station home of Mercedes-Benz, I honestly thought I was lost. The directions I looked up prior described being able to easily navigate to the museum complex from the station on one’s own. Yet, here I was staring at a highway and a bunch of roads wondering if I had gone the wrong way. So I trusted the directions and burned through a little of my international mobile data (sorry Dad) to find the museum was a couple minute walk in front of where I was standing and just behind the highway. Around a corner and down a few streets I came to see a beautiful, cylindrical shaped building, the Mercedes-Benz Museum.
Once inside, I checked my bag, picked up reserved voucher, and began my adventure through the legacy of the company. Every visitor was given a complimentary audio guide and map. The museum was one of the most impressive sights I visited thus far on my Magellan. Over 125 years of history was displayed through over 1,500 exhibits and 160 different vehicles. The self guided tour began at the top floor which was accessed through three main elevators positioned near the entrance. Every elevator had a project attached on top which displayed historical images and videos on the opposing walls as it rose through the building. The floors were laid out by time periods and featured two separate areas. Each floor had started with various exhibits and feats of technology arranged chronologically. Then, off to the side before the stairs was a room highlighting a specific type of automobile. For example, one of the floors had a room dedicated entirely to service vehicles created by Mercedes-Benz while the next floor had a display of vehicles driven or owned by public figures such as the Pope. These “collection” rooms and “legend” rooms (historical rooms) were set side by side.
The beginning of the museum started with the beginning of the automobile in the invention of the engine. Deutz Viertak created a four-stroke internal combustion engine in 1880 which is considered to be the first of its kind. However, this was much too large and cumbersome to be useful for transportation. The feat which followed was Zweikoft Gas Motor created by Mr. Karl Benz in 1882. Gottlieb Daimler created the first engine capable of being used in an automobile in 1886. Those two men and their stories are interwoven in history. Eventually their companies joined to create Mercedes-Benz. Daimler’s engine known as the “Grandfather Clock Engine” was produced in 1885 and became the first practically used automobile engine. Daimler focused fitting his creation to various other transportation vehicles such as trains and boats. During this time, Benz patented the first chassis and engine design (as opposed to an independent engine built into a cart). On January 29th, 1886 the first automobile patent was awarded. Just 7 years later the first 4 wheeled automobile was created. The following years were critical for automobile as colonialism spurred industrialization. A transition from agricultural to industrial increased the necessity of easy transportation as well as the means necessary for mass production. This led to the creation and success of two competing companies founded by Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler in Benz and CIE and Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft (DMG) respectfully. DMG made the name Mercedes popular when a wealthy business owner requested Wilhelm Maybach, an engineer of DMG, created a powerful new car with the name of his daughter, Mercedes. The car was such a huge success that the name stuck.
In 1923, hyper inflation from the crisis after WWI paralyzed the industry. The inflation was out of hand. In just a 5 month period, an item which had previously cost 1,500 marks was priced at 240 billion marks. The German Automobile industry was fighting for its life. In a strategic decision, investors of DMG and Benz joined in 1924. Two years later their companies officially merged to become Mercedes Benz. However, during this time manufacturers were not allowed to produce cars or marine engines due to restrictions from the allies of WWI. Instead, the company produced items such as bicycles and typewriters to stay afloat from bankruptcy. Then in the following decade, the automobile industry experienced the largest upswing in its history with the rise of Adolf Hitler. New highways and a new arms build-up required more commercial and military vehicles. Business soared. The downside of this revitalization came with the restriction of private companies by the Third Reich. By the end of the 1930’s, nearly 2/3rds of Mercedes-Benz revenue came from government contracts. Complete control of the company was given to the state during the total war economy of WWII.
During the war, the factories became a key target for allied bombings. Nearly 80% of all buildings were destroyed at the Stuttgart plant. An American officer spoke about the sight saying “They will never build anything here again.” After the war, the company almost seized to exist. The Russians took control of all plants in Western Germany. The company survived by repairing jeeps and other allied vehicles as their main source of revenue. What truly saved them was aid from the Marshall plan and the founding of the new Republic of Germany. Mercedes-Benz became the official automobile of the new Republic. The popularity of the car soared. Orders and revenue came pouring in. Mew plants were built across the world in Argentina, Brazil, and India in the early 1950s. Success soon followed as the cars outperformed rivals. Mercedes returned to the Grand Prix in 1952 and took the title. The rise of the Germany economy created a new middle class who could afford cars. Mass production soon followed. A new age of comfort, luxury, and design formed with the founding of an upper-middle class. For the first time in 1960, privately owned cars outnumbered company cars on Germany roadways.
The reputation and popularity of the brand only continued to grow from here. Today, the car is considered one of the top luxury brands. Around the world the three pointed star surrounded in a laurel wreath is recognizable. As consumers produced new demands for innovation, Mercedes-Benz answered in their products. From nation to nation, the cars continue to dominate sales of the upper and middle class. The reason for their success is many fold, but includes their ability to consistently provide more advanced cars. To further investigate this topic, I set up an interview with a member of Mercedes-Benz’ elite high performance division, AMG.