“Mercedes”: the brand name that shines out for over 120 years

April 16, 2020 - A good brand name has international appeal. “Mercedes” is one of the most famous and most traditional: from 1900 onwards, it was used to brand the innovative passenger cars made by Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft, and, together with its outstanding vehicle and engine technology, it gave the company worldwide recognition and thus shaped personal mobility as a whole. In 1926, the brand was extended to produce Mercedes-Benz – while its significance on all continents remained unchanged. For the oldest luxury car brand in the world, its name is both the basis and incentive to carry this outstanding tradition into the future.

Businessman and motorcar enthusiast Emil Jellinek was well aware of the importance of a brand name that was easy to remember. At the beginning of April 1900, he concluded an agreement with Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) in Nice on the distribution of Daimler cars and engines. The decision to develop a new engine, which was to bear the name Daimler-Mercedes, was a further ground-breaking step: it meant that the name that Jellinek had been using as a pseudonym for several years became the product name. On 22 December 1900, DMG delivered the first car equipped with the new engine to Nice, a 35 PS racing car.

The vehicle was not only the newest and most powerful model produced by DMG – it has since come to be recognised as the very first modern motorcar. The Mercedes 35 PS was systematically designed for performance, weight savings and safety, its key features including a lightweight high-performance engine, a long wheelbase and a low centre of gravity. With these attributes and the honeycomb radiator organically integrated into the front, it gave the motorcar its own distinct form: the first Mercedes was no longer reminiscent of a carriage pulled along by a combustion engine instead of horses. Rather, it was a new construction which had been systematically designed from scratch for the innovative new type of drive. Experts were immediately aware that this vehicle marked a profound change in the field of automotive engineering. Paul Meyan, the founding member and secretary-general of the motorcar Club de France (A.C.F.), is on record as having commented: “We have entered the Mercédès era.”

High-performance four-cylinder engine of the Mercedes 35 HP.

Mercedes is unbeatable

During Nice Week (“Semaine de Nice”) in March 1901, at that time arguably the most important international motorsport event, the Mercedes cars entered were unbeatable in practically every discipline. This helped Jellinek and Mercedes to achieve exceptional publicity. “Clearly, French designers have nothing comparable to offer at present,” wrote the “La Presse” newspaper on 30 March 1901. In March and August 1901, the sister models, the 12/16 PS and 8/11 PS, were launched. Jellinek's business was booming: in society’s most exclusive circles, it was the done thing to drive a Mercedes or, even better, to be driven in one. The Daimler plant in Cannstatt was hardly able to keep up with the production demand.

Baron Henri de Rothschild’s Mercedes 35 HP racing car in La Turbie after winning the Nice–La Turbie hill climb on 29 March 1901.

The brand name and the young girl

The brand name goes back to Jellinek's daughter, Mercédès, who grew up in a family that was obsessed with motorcar technology: Emil Jellinek, who lived in Baden near Vienna and in Nice, insisted on greater performance and more innovative technology from Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft in the closing years of the 19th century, which resulted in the development of the modern motorcar. From 1899 on, he competed in car races on the Côte d’Azur in high-performance Daimler cars under the pseudonym “Monsieur Mercedes”, the first name of his daughter, who was born in 1889.

Following the ground-breaking motorsport and market successes of Mercedes cars, the name “Mercédès” was applied for as a trademark on 23 June, 1902 and legally registered on 26 September. Emil Jellinek took this a step further one year later, and in June 1903 he received permission to change his name to Jellinek-Mercedes from then on. He commented on the decision thus: “This must in all probability be the first time that a father has borne the name of his daughter.”

Mercédès Jellinek in a Mercedes racing car, photographed around 1906.

A new star on the horizon

The Mercedes star? The star was registered as a trademark by DMG in June 1909 both as a three-pointed and a four-pointed star. Both versions were protected by law, but only the three-pointed star was actually used and, from 1910 on, it was seen embellishing the radiators of Mercedes vehicles in a three-dimensional form. The three tips of the star were also regarded as a symbol of Gottlieb Daimler’s efforts to achieve universal motorisation “on land, at sea and in the air” – a vision he consistently pursued from the very beginning.

When Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft and Benz & Cie. merged in 1926, a new brand name was created, which incorporated the key elements of the emblems used up to that time: the three-pointed star of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft surrounded by the word mark “Mercedes” and the equally prestigious brand name “Benz”, whose laurel wreath connected the two words. This trademark still adorns the vehicles of the Mercedes-Benz brand today and is regarded throughout the world as the epitome of tradition and innovation, and of the future of the motorcar.

The Vision Mercedes Simplex, 2019

One example of this is the “Vision Mercedes Simplex”, which Mercedes-Benz Design presented in September 2019. It is a sculpture that symbolises both the origin and the future of the Mercedes-Benz luxury brand. It symbolises the transition to a new era of design and technology. At the same time it is a homage to the historical legacy and the birth of the brand.

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