The History Behind the Mercedez-Benz Brand and the Three-Pointed Star


It is a most remarkable coincidence that two people, Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler, simultaneously — and successfully — worked on automotive locomotion in the eighties of the 19th century, and not even that far away from each other. These two men had pursued completely different careers and had very different professional and educational backgrounds. And yet they did create one and the same thing: they invented the automobile, every one of them on his own and without knowing about the other's activities. They only met — briefly — at a later stage.

With her legendary long-distance journey, Bertha Benz ensured the breakthrough of the automobile; another name inseparably linked with the successful history of our company is that of Emil Jellinek.

And yet it is unlikely that these courageous pioneers had any idea of the impact their visions would once have.

Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz

The invention in the 1880s of the high-speed engine and the automobile enabled Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz — independently of one another — to lay the foundations for the motorization of road transport. With the help of financial backers and partners, they both invested their development projects in their own private businesses — in Mannheim, Benz founded the firm Benz & Cie. in October 1883, and Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) was formed in November 1890.

In order to gain publicity and a certain distinction for their products, both companies sought a suitable trademark. To begin with, the inventors used their own names — "Benz" and "Daimler", which vouched for the origin and quality of the engines and vehicles. The trademark of Benz & Cie. remained unchanged, except that in 1909, the cog wheel symbol which had been used since 1903 was replaced with a laurel wreath surrounding the name Benz. But the turn of the century brought a completely new trade name for products from Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) in Cannstatt: "Mercedes". So what is the origin of this name? Emil Jellinek becomes involved.

Mercedes — a Spanish girls' name meaning 'grace' — was the name of the daughter born in 1889 to the Austrian businessman, Emil Jellinek, who had homes in Baden near Vienna and Nice.

A progressive thinker with an interest in sport, Jellinek turned his enthusiasm to the dawning age of the automobile, an invention he knew would be of key importance for the future. As early as 1897, he made the journey to Cannstatt to visit the Daimler factory and ordered his first Daimler car - a 6 hp belt-driven vehicle with two-cylinder engine.

But the car, delivered in October 1897 and with a top speed of 24 km/h, was soon too slow for Jellinek. He demanded 40 km/h and ordered two more vehicles. Supplied in September 1898, the two Daimler "Phoenix" cars, with their front—mounted 8 hp engines, were the world's first road vehicles with four-cylinder engines.

Emil Jellinek had good contacts with the worlds of international finance and the aristocracy and became increasingly active as a businessman. In 1898, he began to promote and sell Daimler automobiles - in particular, within the higher echelons of society. In 1899, DMG supplied Jellinek with 10 vehicles; in 1900, he received as many as 29.

Jellinek demanded ever faster and more powerful vehicles from DMG. From 1899, he also entered these in race meetings — first and foremost of which was the Nice week — where he would race under his pseudonym, 'Mercédès', the name of his daughter aged ten at the time. Initially, he used the name not as an automotive brand name but merely as a team and driver designation.

At the beginning of April 1900, Jellinek made an agreement with DMG concerning sales of Daimler cars and engines. The decision was taken to develop a new engine "bearing the name Daimler-Mercedes", thereby introducing Jellinek's pseudonym as a product designation. Two weeks later, Jellinek ordered 36 of the vehicles at a total price of 550,000 marks — a sizeable order even at today's equivalent value of DM 5.5 million. A few weeks later, he placed an order for another 36 vehicles, all with 8 hp engines. The first Mercedes and the new trade name.

The first vehicle to be fitted with the new engine, a 35 hp racing car, was delivered to Jellinek by DMG on December 22, 1900. This first 'Mercedes', developed by Wilhelm Maybach, the chief engineer at DMG, caused quite a stir in the first year of the new century. With its low center of gravity, pressed-steel frame, light, high-performance engine and honeycomb radiator, it featured numerous innovations and is regarded today as the first modern automobile.

The Nice week in March 1901, during which the Mercedes vehicles were found to be unbeatable in virtually every discipline, attracted enormous publicity for Jellinek and the Mercedes. In March and August 1901, the 12/16 hp and 8/11 hp sister models appeared. Jellinek's orders soon stretched the Daimler plant in Cannstatt to full production capacity.

'Mercedes' was lodged as a trade name on June 23, 1902 and legally registered on September 26. From June 1903, Emil Jellinek obtained permission to call himself Jellinek-Mercedes, commenting: "This is probably the first time that a father has taken his daughter's name."

The origin of the star

DMG now had a successful trade name, but still lacked a characteristic trademark. Then Paul and Adolf Daimler - the company founder's two sons, and now in charge of the business - remembered that their father had once used a star as a symbol.

The DMG board immediately accepted the proposal and in June 1909, both three-pointed and four-pointed stars were registered as trademarks. Although both designs were legally protected, only the three-pointed star was used. From 1910 onwards it began to appear at the front of the cars as a design feature on the radiator.

The three-pointed star was supposed to symbolize Daimler's ambition of universal motorization — "on land, on water and in the air". Over the years, various small additions were made. In 1916, the points were surrounded by a circle, in which four small stars and the word Mercedes were integrated, or alternatively the names of the DMG plants at Untertürkheim or Berlin-Marienfelde.

In November 1921, DMG applied for legal protection of utility patents for any new variations on their trademark and lodged with the patent office a three-dimensional three-pointed star enclosed in a circle — which included the design intended for use on the radiator grille. It became a registered trademark in August 1923.

"A star guiding motorists everywhere"

The period of inflation after the First World War meant a difficult time for sales — especially of luxury goods such as passenger cars — and had serious repercussions on the automobile industry. Only financially strong companies with well-established models were able to survive — although even these were forced into mergers and cooperative ventures. It was in this way that the former rivals, DMG and Benz & Cie., formed a syndicate in 1924 in order to standardize design and production, as well as purchasing, sales and advertising, and thereby remain competitive.

During this period, the two firms generally marketed their products jointly, although still under separate trademarks. Two years later, in June 1926, the two oldest motor manufacturers merged to form Daimler-Benz AG.

At this point a new trademark was designed, which brought together the main characteristics of both the existing emblems — the world renowned three-pointed star belonging to Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft was surrounded with its trade name 'Mercedes' as well as that of the equally famous name 'Benz', whose laurel wreath entwined the two names together.

This trademark, which has changed little over the decades, still adorns Mercedes-Benz vehicles and has come to represent quality and safety on roads everywhere. And throughout the world the name Mercedes-Benz is synonymous with tradition, innovation and the future of the automobile.