On this day in 1902, German automaker Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) first registers “Mercedes” as a brand name; the name will gain full legal protection the next September.
Mechanical engineer Gottlieb Daimler sold his first luxury gasoline-powered automobile to the sultan of Morocco in 1899; a year later, he formed DMG in his hometown [or whatever] of Cannstatt, Germany. Emil Jellinek, a prominent Austrian diplomat and businessman who was extremely enthusiastic about the development of the automobile, ordered a car from Daimler in 1897. The carmaker delivered a six-horsepower vehicle with a two-cylinder engine, but it was too slow for Jellinek; to replace it, he ordered two of a faster model–the four-cylinder Daimler Phoenix. Soon, Jellinek began to sell Daimler cars to high society customers and to drive them in racing events, including Nice Week on the French Riviera, in 1899. He entered these races using the pseudonym “Mercedes,” the name of his elder daughter.
In April 1900, Jellinek signed an agreement with DMG to distribute and sell a new line of four-cylinder vehicles. He suggested they call the car Mercedes, feeling that the non-German name might sell better in France. On December 22, 1900, DMG delivered the first Mercedes to Jellinek. Designed by Wilhelm Maybach, chief engineer for DMG, the 35-horsepower vehicle featured a pressed-steel chassis (or frame), honeycomb radiator, mechanical intake valves and an improved gearbox; it could achieve a speed of 53 mph. For this combination of attributes, the 1901 Mercedes is considered to have been the first truly modern automobile.
At Nice Week in March 1901, Mercedes race cars nearly swept the field, and orders began pouring into DMG’s Cannstatt factory. “Mercedes” was registered as a brand name on June 22, 1902, and legally protected the following September 26. In June 1903, Emil Jellinek obtained permission to take the name Jellinek-Mercedes, observing that it was “probably the first time that a father has borne the name of his daughter.”
The famous Mercedes symbol, a three-point star, was registered as a trademark in 1909 and used on all Mercedes vehicles from 1910 onward. It had its origins in a story that Paul and Adolf Daimler, sons of Gottlieb Daimler and senior executives at DMG, remembered about their father, who died in 1900. On a postcard with a picture of Cologne and Deutz, where he was working at the time in the Deutz engine factory, the elder Daimler had drawn a star over the house where he was living. In the card’s message, he told his wife the star represented the prosperity that would shine on them in the future, when he would have his own factory.