Gottlieb Daimler

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Gottlieb Daimler

Gottlieb Daimler
Gottlieb Daimler
IT WAS DEAD OF NIGHT on an autumn evening in 1883, yet the shed at the bottom of the garden of number 13 Gartenstrasse, in the German spa town of Bad Cannstatt, was a hive of activity.

From inside came the clink and rattle of machinery. Suddenly, another noise disturbed the night air, the clatter of boots on the garden path as a detachment of the Royal Wurttemberg Police Force marched up to the door.

The inspector rapped sharply on the wood, and the door was opened by a portly middle-aged man with a neat beard. 'Gottlieb Daimler,' said the inspector, 'your neighbours have laid a complaint that they strongly suspect you of being involved in the manufacture of counterfeit banknotes. I have a warrant to search your workshop.'

A few minutes later, however, the police withdrew, apologising profusely, having discovered that, far from being a coiner, Daimler was just an inventor, who seemed to be working on some kind of engine. Though how he expected it to run without a boiler, goodness only knew.

What the inspector and his minions failed to realise, though, was that they had been looking at a power unit that represented the culmination of a 25-year search for a self-contained motive force that would supplant the steam engine.

Gottlieb Daimler was born on the 17 March 1834, at Schorndorf, in the Rems Valley, 'Wurtternberg's little Garden of Paradise'. His father ran a bakery and wine bar but, from an early age, his son showed great interest in technology. He graduated from the local Latin school in 1848, and went into apprenticeship with a carbine manufacturer named Raithel, whose products were in great demand, owing to the wave of revolution that was then sweeping through Germany.

Four years later, Gottlieb passed his craft test by making a pair of double-barrelled pistols with rifled barrels and engraved handles; and left gun-smithing behind him for ever. He enrolled at the School for Advanced Training in the Industrial Arts at Stuttgart, under Ferdinand Steinbeis.

The course was essentially practical, the students working at a factory all day and studying industrial mechanics at the school every evening, as well as on Sunday mornings. In 1853, Steinbeis found Daimler a job with the firm of F. Rolle and Schwilque at Grafenstaden, near Strasbourg; the works was known as 'the Factory College', because the manager, Friedrich Messmer, was a former teacher at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and was now devoting his skills to the advanced training of promising young engineers.

The work was hard, the day often stretching from 5 am well into the night, but Daimler thrived on it. When the company began building railway locomotives in 1856, the 22-year-old Daimler was promoted to foreman. He felt, however, that he lacked sufficient knowledge of engineering, and took a two years' leave of absence to study engineering design at the Stuttgart Poly technical Institute. He came through this with a thorough knowledge of locomotive technology and a profound conviction that the future lay with a source other than: steam. What he envisaged was a small, cheap, easy-to-run engine which could be afforded by light industry; a development perhaps of the crude gas engines which were just making their debut.

In the summer of 1861, Daimler resigned from the Grafenstaden firm to follow his dream. After a brief visit to Paris, he moved to England, where he spent a year working with leading engineering companies, gaining much experience in the use of machine tools. The climax of his visit came in 1862 with a visit to the London World Fair, where among the scientific and technical exhibits were a couple of steam carriages. When he returned to Germany, Daimler's he wanted to set up a factory to build machine tools and small woodworking machinery such as he had seen in England.

For a while he worked at the Maschinen-fabrik Straub in Geislingen, designing mills, tools and turbines. Then, at the recommendation of his old tutor, Steinbeis, Daimler took over the management of Bruderhaus Reutlingen, an off-shoot of a charitable institution founded in 1837 to combine modern industrialism with a socialism based on Christian brotherly love. The Reutlingen factory made machinery for paper mills, farm machinery and weighbridges but, the theories of socialism proved incapable of being applied to the profitable running of a business and, by 1863, the Bruderhaus was in trouble.

1886 Wimpff and Son Phaeton powered by Daimler's EngineAfter much experimenting, Gottlieb Daimler's first four-wheeled vehicle (a

Wimpff and Son Phaeton

) was ready by 1886 and made its initial trial runs around the Cannstatt area.

Adolphe Clement taking part in the Paris-Rouen race
The Phoenix was the first automobile where Gottlieb Daimler mounted the engine ar the front.

1892 Daimler V-Twin Engine
This is the V-Twin engine developed by Daimler in 1892.

The PD-wagen of 1900 was designed by Gottlieb Daimler's son, PaulThe PD-wagen of 1900 was designed by Gottlieb Daimler's son, Paul, and featured a twin -cylinder, 1410 cc engine, developing 8 bhp at 850 rpm.

Wilhelm Maybach

The creditors' organisation hired Daimler first as an inspector, then as a member of the executive committee but, although Daimler's administration showed modest profits, he found the work frustrating, and resigned at the end of June 1869. At the time, the period Daimler spent at the Bruderhaus seemed to have been wasted, but it had brought him into contact with a gifted young engineer named Wilhelm Maybach, who had entered the Bruderhaus as a fifteen-year-old orphan in 1861.

In July 1869 Daimler was appointed director of the factories of the Maschinenbau Gesellschaft Karlsruhe, and soon after he sent for Maybach to come and work for him. Although Daimler was a first-class organiser, it seems that Maybach had a far more original mind, and was capable of coming up with the practical solutions to Daimler's abstract conceptions. Having set the Karlsruhe works on an even keel, Daimler was offered a job which at last seemed to give him the chance to realise his ambition of developing a new power source. The Otto and Langen Company had been reorganised as the Gasmotoren-Fabrik Deutz in 1872 to produce an improved version of Otto's atmospheric gas engine; the company needed an experienced factory manager to get production under way, and chose Daimler in preference to Otto himself.

Gasmotoren-Fabrik Deutz

In August 1872 Daimler took over his new job; on his recommendation, Maybach was appointed chief designer. Within three years, production had grown to 634 engines annually, but the Otto engine had reached the peak of its development-its vertically acting free piston needed a headroom of ten to thirteen feet, yet the engine developed no more than three horsepower-and the company found that they had expanded their factory to a far greater extent than the incoming orders warranted. Something had to be done to stave off the impending crisis, and Daimler, who was still obstinately in favour of the atmospheric engine, was not the man to do it.

The Four-Stroke Engine

However; one of his proteges, Franz Rings, helped Otto set up a research department to continue the search for a four-stroke engine that Otto had abandoned in 1862. Hermann Schumm, another Daimler man, developed working prototypes ofOtto and Rings' new engine within a few months of the first drawings being completed ; the first engines were tested in the autumn of 1876. Despite its crude ignition arrangements, with a slide valve exposing a flame to the compressed gas/air mixture at the crucial moment, the Octo four-stroke engine proved an immediate success.

Otto and Daimler were, however, both strong-willed men, and the friction between these two obstinate personalities led to disagreements. Things came to a head in 1881, when Daimler was sent on a trip to Russia to study the market for gas engines there. On his return, he was offered the chance of setting up a Deutz branch office in St Petersburg - or resigning. He left, followed shortly after by the faithful Maybach, and set up on his own in Cannstatt, living on his savings and on the income from the shares he still held in the Deutz company.

Hot-Tube Ignition

One of Daimler's objectives was to simplify the design of the engine by doing away with the clumsy, complicated slide-valve ignition but, mistrusting electricity, he chose to develop the inflexible hot-tube ignition, invented by Leo Funck, of Aachen. Daimler's engine had a thin-walled tube projecting into the cylinder. The outer end, which was closed, was kept almost at white heat by a bunsen burner; part of the explosive mixture produced by the carburettor was forced into the tube by the rising piston and combustion took place. As there was absolutely no control over the ignition timing, Daimler and Maybach had many setbacks before they could persuade the engine to run properly.

The results, recalled Daimler, were initially quite hopeless. Premature firing of the mixture occurred again and again when the engine was being started and during compression, before reaching dead centre, when the flywheel was suddenly, and unexpectedly, thrown backwards instead of forwards, the crank ripping right out of the experiment assistant's hand like a bolt of lightning. Eventually, however, Daimler and Maybach sorted out the ignition problems, finding that the little engine could run at speeds of 450 to 900 rpm which was the maximum of other forms of gas engine.

Powering A Wimpff and Son Phaeton

Daimler saw this engine as a universal power unit, for industry as well as for vehicles; nevertheless, he was experimenting with a mobile test bench in November 1885. For the sake of cheapness, he fitted the vertical, half-horsepower engine in a wooden boneshaker bicycle frame steadied by outrigger wheels. Once he had determined that his engine would drive a vehicle, he abandoned the boneshaker and began work on a horseless carriage. Having developed al 1.1 hp engine for this new project, he ordered a four-seater phaeton from the coach-builders Wimpff and Son of Stuttgart.

As he wanted his plans to remain secret as long as possible, Daimler told Wimpff that the carriage was a birthday present for his wife, and that he wanted it 'handsome, but very solidly built'. When the vehicle arrived, Daimler sent it to the Esslingen Engineering Works to have the engine installed. The power unit was coupled to the rear wheels through a simple two-ratio belt-drive, which rotated a countershaft with pinions at each end engaging in toothed rings attached to the rear wheels.

Although the carriage seems to have performed satisfactorily, there was still considerable prejudice against self-propelled road vehicles, and Daimler's initial successes came from orders for engines for motor boats and rail carriages - he even supplied power units for some pioneer airships, as well as stationary engines which were fitted in mobile saw benches and fire pumps. Demand for Daimler engines grew rapidly, and more production space was found by moving out of the garden workshop into a former nickel-plating works nearby.

The V-twin and the Steel Wheeler

Now Daimler and Maybach began work on a new power unit, a V-twin which gave a greatly increased power-to-weight ratio within similar dimensions (although the V -twin layout itself was not new, having been used on light steam engines). Maybach designed a car - the 'steel-wheeler' - round this engine, and both power unit and car were shown at the 1889 Paris World Exhibition, resulting in the signing of a sales agreement with Panhard and Levassor, who sold engines to Peugeot.


To acquire the capital necessary for further expansion, Daimler signed contracts with a gun-powder manufacturer named Max Duttenhofer and another industrialist, W. Lorenz, which resulted in the formation of the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft on 28 November 1890. The parnership quickly turned sour, however, and, at the end of 1892, Daimler and Maybach cut loose and set up an experimental workshop in the great summer hall of the defunct Hotel Hermann in Cannstatt.

They developed a high-speed, two-cylinders-in-line engine, the Phonix, fitted with Maybach's new invention, the spray carburettor (which was really rather wasted on the inflexible tube-ignition power unit) and a belt-driven car of hippomobile inelegance, which was wildly out of date compared with the Daimler-engined cars being built by Panhard and Peugeot. At the end of 1895, truce was declared between Daimler, Maybach and the Daimler Mororen-Gesellschaft, and serious production of Phonix-engined cars began.

After a couple of years, however, Gottlieb Daimler's health began to break down. As his powers deteriorated, so Maybach emerged from the background and, helped by Daimler's son, Paul, began development of a new type of car for the wealthy Austrian, Emil Jellinek. They called this new car the Mercedes, the 'car of the day after tomorrow', but it was a day that dawned too late for Gottlieb Daimler, who died on 6 March 1900, before the agreement to produce the new model had been finalised.

Also see: Honour Roll - Founding Fathers Of The Automotive Industry
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