The Rearview Mirror: A Star Is Born

Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft’s first logo.

It is one the world’s most famous automotive marketing icons: the Mercedes-Benz star. Yes, there are other icons, such as Audi’s four rings, BMW’s roundel, the Chevrolet bowtie, the Cadillac crest, the Lincoln star and Dodge’s fratzog, among many others.

But none seem as universal as the Mercedes-Benz star, a symbol that came from two different companies, Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft, and Benz & Cie, and its first iteration was trademarked this week in 1923.

An argument leads to a new company

Gottlieb Daimler had gotten his start in 1872 as technical director at Gas-Motoren-Fabrik-Deutz alongside chief designer Wilhelm Maybach. But disagreements with boss Gustav Otto gets Daimler fired in 1881, and Daimler forms his own company that same year.

Adolf Daimler, right, son of Gottlieb Daimler, left in a 1886 Daimler Motor Carriage.

Maybach soon follows, and the firm creates a 469-cc single cylinder four-stroke gas engine that receives a patent in 1883. Initially, the engine would be used to power boats and motorcycles. It wouldn’t be until 1886 that Daimler and Maybach thought to have it power a carriage. 

Yet this explains the company’s a trademark from 1897 that includes a car, a motorboat and an airship symbolizing Daimler’s engine seeing use on land, sea and air.

The firm would continue to build cars and supply engines to other automakers of the time, including France’s Peugeot and Panhard et Levassor. By the late 1890s, Daimler had developed a car with a front engine and chain drive, a layout that became an industry standard for more than a century. 

A stroke of genius

Carl Benz in an 1893 Benz Victoria.

Meanwhile, Carl Benz, ten years younger than Daimler, found himself drifting from job to job designing scales, bridges and engines before establishing his own machine shop in 1871. Benz resigns in January 1883 after disagreements with his partners, forming Benz & Cie with cycling buddies to produce gas engines. 

But given the bicycle’s popularity, Benz dreams of producing a vehicle that, he said, “runs under its own power like a locomotive, but not on tracks, but like a wagon, simply on any street.”

Benz & Cie logo from 1903

Initially building and selling stationary two-stroke engines, Benz begins experimenting with a four-stroke engine that develops two-thirds of one horsepower at 250 rpm.

He then turns to create a vehicle to put it in, something that had never been built before. Ultimately, what he comes up with is a 580-pound, three-wheel car; Benz couldn’t figure out how to steer a four-wheel car. The vehicle’s engine is placed on its side at the rear of the car, and would have its first drive Jan. 2, 1886. Benz applies for a patent, and within two years is selling his new car having created the world’s first production automobile.

By 1899, having built 2,300 cars, Benz & Cie is the world’s largest automaker. He would stop active work in his company in 1903, but would remain on the company’s board. 

A logo is born

But their individual logos came about in different ways.

Daimler’s 1909 emblem.

As the new century dawns, Gottlieb Daimler’s sons Paul and Adolf adapt a three-pointed star for use as the brand logo. Their father had used a symbol like it to mark the family’s house on a postcard.

On June 24, 1900, three months after Gottlieb Daimler’s death, the company applies for legal protection for the symbol. At the same time, Daimler also applies for protection of a symbol comprising a four-pointed star. However, from 1910 onwards, only the three-pointed star is used as an emblem on the radiators of the Mercedes vehicles, representing Daimler engines use on land, at sea and in the air. But the three-pointed star is only the start of Daimler’s emerging brand. 

The largest dealer for Daimler vehicles in 1900 is Austrian businessman Emil Jellinek, who is entering car races using the pseudonym Mercedes, which is also his daughter’s name.

After a series of victories, Daimlers are increasingly being referred to as Mercedes. Daimler capitalizes on the new name’s growing recognition, and on June 23, 1902, the company registers the name as a trademark, which is granted three months later. 

Benz’s 1909 logo.

The three-pointed star begins adorning Daimler radiators, or is used on the sides of the hood combined with Mercedes lettering. It would be placed inside a ring and combined with Mercedes lettering in 1909, with four small stars added in 1916. In November 1921, Daimler registers the star in a ring as an emblem, as well as for use as a mascot atop the radiator cap. The trademark is registered on August 2, 1923.

Benz’s logo differed from Daimler’s, as its 1903 emblem showed the company name inside a gear, reflecting its expertise in building both engines and vehicles. In 1909, the Mannheim-based company redesigns its logo. The name was now enclosed within a circle surrounded by a laurel wreath, which was typically given to winners of sporting competitions, including car races, in which Benz was proving to be victorious.

A merger and a new logo

1926 Mercedes-Benz trademark

Yet in the aftermath of World War I, both automakers struggle to resume car production, as the market for cars had collapsed, and those orders the companies had proved hard to fill given a shortage of raw materials. 

In 1919, a Benz board member makes an overture to Daimler about the possibility of working together. But Benz wants a joint venture with both companies remaining independent. Daimler wanted a merger. Talks break off by year’s end.

However, by 1923, war reparations and the chaos of the Weimar Republic has ruined the German economy, and Benz needs a partner to help it survive. Meanwhile, over at Daimler, a board member proposes a merger of Daimler, Benz, BMW and Opel to form a German General Motors.

In February 1924, a presentation is made to the supervisory boards of Daimler and Benz outlining the benefits of consolidation. On May 1, the two companies sign an agreement to merge. 

In 1925, the company combines the Mercedes star and the Benz wreath with the words Mercedes-Benz to create a new logo, which was trademarked within the year and continues to serve the company in various forms to this day.

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