Karl Friedrich Benz was born in Karlsruhe, Germany, on November 26, 1844. Heattended the local gymnasium and polytechnic school. At age 21, Benz went towork in a local machine shop. He continued to work in the machine tool industry and, in 1871, opened a small engineering works with August Ritter as his partner. His first efforts to power a horseless carriage were not very fruitful, but he persisted. Some said he was obsessed with the idea. Shut out of therace to develop a four-stroke engine by Nikolaus August Otto's patented engine, Benz continued to make improvements to a one-horsepower, two-stroke engine of his own design at his factory in Mannheim. Eventually, this new engine attracted enough financial support for Benz to open a new company (without Ritter) in 1883.
It was this company, called Benz & Company, which built the world's firstautomobile powered by an internal combustion engine. Benz and another German, Gottlieb Daimler, feuded over who should be the deserving recipient of thishonor. In fact, the two men never met and developed their automobiles independently, but it appears that Benz was about two years ahead of Daimler.
Benz also saw the motor car differently than did Daimler. Daimler believed the public would demand that the automobile closely resemble a converted horsecarriage; Benz maintained that a completely different vehicle was called for.His first self-propelled vehicle was a three-wheeled, horseshoe-shaped contrivance that resembled a giant baby carriage. Benz may also have been the casualty of an automobile accident, having driven one of his first autos into a wall at his factory, while apparently forgetting to steer the vehicle during ademonstration.
Benz made his first commercial sale in 1887 in Paris, and, within one year, he was employing about fifty men to produce his three-wheeled vehicle. By thistime, the Otto four-stroke engine patent had been revoked, and Benz (as wellas others) was using four-cycle engines of a design that had been refined byhis rival, Daimler. The Benz Company's first four-wheel model, introduced in1893, was powered by a 1.5 HP engine and was capable of 15 mph (24 kph).
In 1899, the successful Benz Company reorganized as a limited company. Four years later, Benz left the company after a lingering dispute with its board ofdirectors. He returned to the company briefly in 1904 but quickly retired toLadenburg, where he died on April 4, 1929.
The Daimler and Benz companies merged in 1926 to form the Daimler-Benz company, which marketed their products under the Mercedes-Benz nameplate.