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Why Mercedes is called . . . Mercedes - The story behind the famous name


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Why Mercedes is called . . . Mercedes - The story behind the famous name

Mercedes-Benz is recognised as one of the most luxurious car manufacturers in the world but where does the name come from?

Many people are likely to be familiar with the second part of the name after Karl Benz – the man who created the first petrol-powered car –the Patent Motorcar in 1886. But the background behind the name Mercedes is an altogether different story.

In 1926, Benz merged his business with Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft  – a company formed by Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach in 1890 – to become Daimler-Benz.

However it was Emil Jellinek – a wealthy Austrian car entrepreneur – that introduced the name which would become famously known around the globe. After giving birth to two boys Adolph and Fernand, Jellinek’s wife Rachel, had their first daughter in 1889 and called her ‘Mercedes’ which means ‘favours’ or ‘gifts’ in Spanish.

Rachel died four years later but Jellinek thought that his daughter’s name brought him good fortune and was very superstitious and began naming all his numerous properties after her.

Jellinek made his huge wealth from insurance and stock trading but he became enthralled by the automobile. He was a keen racing driver and also began selling them, mostly French makes, on the French Riviera to European aristocrats holidaying in the region.

He was a big admirer of Maybach’s work and eventually became a distributor for DMG. Jellinek promised to pay DMG a very large sum of money and buy a shipment of 36 cars if Maybach could design a revolutionary race car for him to his exact specifications to be called the Mercedes. He also became a member of the DMG board and acquired the right to open an exclusive dealership for the new Mercedes in Europe and the USA.

Jellinek was very strict about the spec for the Mercedes, saying ‘I don’t want a car for today or tomorrow – it will be the car of the day after tomorrow.’ He wanted a longer wheelbase to improve stability, the engine to be better located on the chassis and an electric ignition using the new Bosch system.

When the 35-hp Mercedes, as it became known, was finished in 1901 it was the first ‘real’ car to be built by present-day standards and it amazed the automotive world and DMG dramatically increased its sales. The Mercedes name was officially registered as a trademark in 1902. Jellinek even changed his name to Jellinek-Mercedes and began to sign his name ‘E J Mercedes’.

His contract was cancelled by DMG in 1908 – a year after Maybach left the company – and he was eventually forced to flee neutral Switzerland during World War One after being accused of espionage for Germany. He died in 1918 before the end of the conflict.

As for his daughter Mercedes herself, she apparently did not share her father’s love of cars, married twice and died in 1929 at the age of 39 in Vienna, Austria. With the merger of Daimler-Benz in 1926, the company kept the Mercedes-Benz brand name and it is as strong as ever today.

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