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This Day in History: Karl Benz Patents Automobile

June 13, 2014 - 8:59am
Mercedes Benz

To this day, the Germans are known for their high-class cars. The European nation churns out one of the greatest auto production lines not only in the continent, but in the world. It all started with Karl Benz, the inventor of the first automobile, who, on June 26, 1894, received the U.S. patent for gasoline-driven auto. When senior travel clubs are driving through Germany on the Romantic Rhine, Dutch Windmills & Germany's Highlights, they might picture the man who sparked a legacy of innovation that would reshape transportation forever.  

Karl Benz
Karl Benz was born in 1844 to a father who worked as an engine driver. Under his dad's wing, Benz served as an apprentice during a time of widespread fascination with the "new technology." When he was a boy, he attended the Karlsruhe Grammar School and later the Karlsruhe Polytechnic. Between 1864 and 1870, Benz worked for a handful of different firms as a designer, draftsman and work manager before establishing his firm in the city of Mannheim at 27-years-old. 

Although Benz was moderately successful throughout he 1870s, he chose to focus on new technologies he could license to generate more income. More than 10 years after opening the shop and two years after working on the two-stroke engine, Benz made the breakthrough he had been hoping for: a four-stroke engine powered by gasoline. 

About the First Benz
The two-seater vehicle, which was completed in 1885, featured three wire-spoked wheels on a single-cylinder four-stroke engine. The frame was built from tubular steel and had a controlled exhaust valve, high-voltage electrical vibrator ignition with a spark plug and water evaporation cooling. At the time, this vehicle was the cutting edge of technology.

Dubbed the "horseless carriage," the invention would change the way the world looked at getting from point A to point B. 

Four Wheels are Better Than Three
Eventually Benz solved the problem of the three-wheeled car, which naturally had less cornering stability, by filing a patent for his double-pivot steering. He installed it the same year in his four-wheeled Victoria model. At the World Exposition in Chicago (1893), Benz presented Velocipede to the public. It became the world's first car from large-scale production, costing a lofty 2,000 marks each.

Fascinatingly, Bertha Benz, Karl's wife, decided to help promote his invention by taking it on a 120-mile tour without his knowledge. On the trip she served as her own mechanic. This marked the first long-distance road trip in history. The route included a few detours from Mannheim to Pforzheim. With this journey, Bertha demonstrated the practicality of the motor vehicle, resulting in the growth of Benz & Co.

In 1897, Benz developed the contra engine, where the cylinders were arranged opposite each other. For those on senior group travel who consider themselves gear heads, they might be excited to know that this was the birth of the horizontally-opposed piston engine.  

The Partnership: Mercedes-Benz 
It wasn't until 1925, four years before Benz's death, that the company merged with Daimler to eventually become Mercedes-Benz. These are the two oldest car manufacturers in the world, and the Mercedes-Benz trademark is among the most esteemed brand symbols. Everyone who's been to a city will recognize the three-pointed star.

How Far They've Come
The automobile industry in Germany is one of the largest in the country. Since the 1960s it has led the pack in Europe in auto production, and currently has the third-highest automobile production the world, behind China, the U.S. and Japan.

A little more than 120 years after the first four-stroke engine, Mercedes-Benz and the car industry have undoubtedly blazed a trail. Sports cars, luxury vehicles and four-wheel drive are all part of modern standards these days.

The Mercedes-Benz Factory
To get a behind-the-scenes look at Mercedes-Benz, head to the factory that's located in Bremen. Travelers on affordable travel tours in Germany can see where the cars are constructed with SL, SLK, C-Class E-Class Coupe and GLK all rolling off the production line here. Witness at close quarters as the body shell is put together and the car goes through final assembly. 

The English tour is available May, June, September and October. German tours are offered year-round except during public holidays.

Visitors can walk through a plant tour of Mercedes-Benz's largest plant in the world in Sindelfingen, providing an insight into vehicle manufacturing. The tour begins at the press and stamping shop, where the parts first take shape. Then they'll move to the robots work on the body all the way to when the body frame meets the chassis in the assembly shop. In the logistics and supermarket, guests can see how parts for the vehicles are readied for the assembly lines. 

At the end of the day, Karl Benz said it best, "The love of inventing never dies."