Gottlieb Daimler, the German engineer who invented an early version of the internal combustion engine and founded an auto company bearing his name, dies at the age of 65 on this day in 1900.
Daimler, who was born on March 17, 1834, in Schorndorf, Germany, apprenticed as a gunsmith before he moved into mechanical engineering. Believing that steam engines were on the way out, Daimler began developing gasoline engines. In 1885, he met fellow German Wilhelm Maybach (1846-1929) and the two collaborated on a new, efficient four-stroke internal combustion engine. (Nikolaus Otto is credited with inventing the first functioning four-stroke engine.) The two men fitted their engine to a bicycle, creating what people have called the world’s first motorcycle. In 1886, they attached their engine to a carriage and produced a motorized vehicle.
In 1890, Daimler co-founded Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft to make automobiles and engines for a variety of vehicles, including boats and trolleys. (Ironically, Daimler himself reportedly had little interest in driving, despite the early contributions he made to the auto industry.) After he died, his company produced the first Mercedes car: Designed by Wilhelm Maybach, it was named for the daughter of Emil Jellinek, a car dealer and racer who had commissioned the vehicle.
In 1926, Daimler Motoren Gesselschaft merged with Benz & Cie., a company founded by German Karl Benz (1844-1929), who like Daimler was an engine designer and auto industry pioneer. The new company made vehicles under the Mercedes-Benz name, which became synonymous with luxury and performance.
In 1998, Daimler-Benz spent $36 billion to acquire Chrysler, one of America’s “Big Three” automakers. The new business was known as DaimlerChrysler AG. In 2007, Daimler sold an 80 percent stake in Chrysler to private-equity firm Cerberus for $7.4 billion. In 2008, Chrysler, which along with the rest of the auto industry had been hit hard by the global economic crisis and slumping car sales, received a $4 billion federal bailout loan to help it remain in business. On April 30, 2009, the company announced it was filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and would enter a partnership with Italian automaker Fiat.