Gottlieb Daimler was born on 17 March 1834 in Schorndorf, near Stuttgart, the son of a master baker, and christened Gottlieb Wilhelm. As well as going to Latin school, he also attended technical drawing classes on Sundays, an indication that his technical talents were discovered early on. In 1848, the year of revolution, Gottlieb Daimler turned 14 and became apprenticed to a gunsmith in Schorndorf. This gave him a thorough grounding in precision mechanics and in working with explosive forces.
After passing his journeyman's examination in 1852, Daimler attended the Industrial Trade School in Stuttgart. There he came to the notice of Ferdinand Steinbeis from the Royal Centre for Trade and Industry, who found work for Daimler for four years from 1853 at an engineering works in Graffenstaden in the Alsace region. Here, outside of working hours Daimler received theoretical tuition that gave him basis for study. His results were so good that he was subsequently allowed to skip the first two years of his engineering course at the Polytechnic School in Stuttgart and was exempted from tuition fees. Following another period of work at Graffenstaden, the young engineer moved in mid-1860 to the Périn band-saw factory in Paris. From spring 1861 to the end of 1862 he also visited various locations in England and became acquainted with the British mechanical engineering industry at first hand. His trips included visits to engineering works in Oldham and Leeds, two locomotive manufacturers in Manchester and a machine tool factory in Coventry. In early 1863 Gottlieb Daimler went to work as a draughtsman in Geislingen, at a forerunner of the Württembergische Metallwarenfabrik company (WMF). In December 1863 he was already working as a workshop inspector at the Bruderhaus engineering works in Reutlingen, a charitable institution where he came to know Wilhelm Maybach in 1864. From then on, Maybach accompanied Gottlieb Daimler at every stage of his professional career.
On 9 November 1867, Gottlieb Daimler married Emma Kurtz, the daughter of a pharmacist from Maulbronn. In December 1868, Daimler took a management position for the first time when he became factory director of the Maschinenbau-Gesellschaft Karlsruhe engineering works, where Carl Benz had worked as a fitter a few years earlier after completing his studies. It was in Karlsruhe that the couple's two sons, Paul and Adolf, were born in 1869 and 1871 respectively. In 1872 Eugen Langen appointed Daimler to the management of Gasmotoren-Fabrik Deutz AG as technical director. Nicolaus August Otto, along with Eugen Langen one of the two founders of the original company N.A. Otto & Cie., had applied himself to the production of gas engines. Having constructed a new factory in Deutz and converted the business into a joint stock company, Gasmotoren- Fabrik Deutz engaged Gottlieb Daimler to optimise production processes and create a specialist department for development and design. Daimler insisted on having Wilhelm Maybach to assist him and following his move to Deutz in 1872, Maybach was appointed chief designer in January 1873.
Success was fast in coming: the production and sales figures increased, as did the reliability and efficiency of the engines. In 1876 Daimler and Maybach were faced with a similar task when it came to developing to production standard the four-stroke engine patented by Gasmotoren-Fabrik Deutz AG; once again, they attained their goal.
Irreconcilable personal and professional differences between Daimler and Otto resulted in a growing estrangement. At the end of September 1881 Daimler travelled to Russia on behalf of the gas engine factory to explore possibilities for the sale of gas engines and to investigate the state of industry there. On Daimler's return in December 1881, the Supervisory Board of the gas engine factory, put under pressure by Otto, suggested he set up a branch in Petersburg and terminated his existing employment contract with effect from 30 June 1882.
Under these conditions the negotiations over future activities in Russia failed, with the result that Gottlieb Daimler left the company in June 1882. Daimler was 48 years old at the time and had worked in management positions at major enterprises for many years. He therefore had the necessary financial strength to enable him to set himself up in business on his own. Daimler secured the further cooperation of Wilhelm Maybach with an employment contract in April 1882.
In spring 1882 Gottlieb Daimler purchased a villa in Cannstatt, on the outskirts of Stuttgart for 75,000 Goldmarks. He immediately added a brick annex to the greenhouse in the property’s spacious grounds to accommodate an experimental workshop. At the same time the garden paths were widened into "roads".
Daimler pursued ambitious goals: his basic idea was to develop a small, light engine powerful enough to serve as a drive for various vehicles – for carriages, rail vehicles, boats or airships. As far as the engine's operating principle was concerned, he was, of course, thinking of the four-stroke principle he had brought to market an industrial readiness in Deutz. However, the flame ignition used at Gasmotoren-Fabrik Deutz had a complicated slider mechanism that did not permit high engine speeds. The key to achieving high-speed operation – the most important requirement for a small, light engine – lay in the development of a suitable ignition system and workable valve controls.
Success came on 16 December 1883: after lengthy tests, Daimler took out a patent on an uncooled, heat-insulated engine with an unregulated hot-tube ignition system. The German Imperial Patent DRP 28 022 with the simple title "Gas engine" is a masterpiece of wording, since in some points it was based on the Otto four-stroke principle, already disputed but still protected at the time. Just a week after the gas engine, under the title "Innovations to gas engines" Daimler also had a valve control patented "for regulating the power and speed of the engine". The drawing in the patent specification of DRP 28 243 already shows an engine with a vertical cylinder. The first test engine was already up and running in his workshop when Daimler filed the applications for his two gas engine patents. This test engine still had a horizontal cylinder.
Thanks to the hot-tube ignition and a controlled exhaust valve, Daimler's high-speed engine reached an operating speed of 600 revolutions per minute, far more than the existing engines, where upper limits were in the 120 to 180 rpm range.
The next experimental engine was known as the "grandfather clock" by virtue of its appearance. Its output in the first version of 1884 was around 1 hp/ 0.7 kW at 600 rpm. The new engine, which had a closed, oil- and dust-proof crankcase for the first time, was registered by Daimler on 3 April 1885 as a "gas or petroleum engine". A carburettor, for which Daimler filed a patent application on 25 March 1886 as an "apparatus for vaporising petroleum for petroleum engines", enabled the use of petrol as a fuel.
With the "grandfather clock", designed for low weight and compactness, Daimler and Maybach created the basis for installation in a vehicle. The first experimental vehicle was a motorcycle with a wooden frame, often referred to as the "Riding Cycle" or "Riding Car". An even more compact single-cylinder engine modelled on the "grandfather clock" was installed vertically beneath the seat. For this "Vehicle with a gas or petroleum engine", as the patent application of 28 August 1885 was titled, Daimler was granted patent DRP 36 423.The idea of developing the two-wheeler as a cheap workaday vehicle probably originated with Wilhelm Maybach, who is also portrayed in drawings as driver of the Riding Car in drawings. Which achievements can be credited to Gottlieb Daimler and which to Wilhelm Maybach is a question to which research has been unable to provide a conclusive answer to this day. It was particularly the close collaboration, in which the different personalities complemented each other so well, that secured the success that made both men pioneers of individual mobility.
In spring 1886 Daimler ordered an "Americain" carriage from W. Wimpff & Sohn in Stuttgart. Manufactured in Hamburg and assembled in Stuttgart, the carriage was delivered on 28 August and secretly brought to Daimler's home during the night, ostensibly as a birthday present for Emma Daimler. The engine together with the drawbar steering was installed under the supervision of Maybach at Maschinenfabrik Esslingen. Following the Patent Motor Car of Carl Benz by a few months, this Daimler "Motorised Carriage" was the world's first four-wheeled automobile.
The next experimental vehicle was a boat. As early as August 1886, on the River Neckar near Cannstatt, Daimler and Maybach tested a motor boat that was powered by the "grandfather clock" engine and met with general interest. In contrast to his road vehicles, of which the public hardly took any notice, Daimler enjoyed immediate success with his marine and stationary engines. However, the workshop in the garden house was unsuitable for series production of the required unit numbers.
And so, in July 1887, new production facilities were occupied on Ludwigstrasse, today Kreuznacher Strasse, on the Seelberg in Cannstatt. Daimler hired 23 workers, while the bookkeeping and correspondence were handled by his secretary Karl Linck. Lacking capital funding for a factory of this size, Daimler was forced to seek investors. He found them in the director general of Köln-Rottweiler Pulverfabrik, Max Duttenhofer, and the latter's business associate Wilhelm Lorenz, proprietor of Karlsruher Metallpatronenfabrik. On 28 November 1890 the three set up a new stock corporation called "Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft" (DMG). Their aim was to continue the activities on the Seelberg. Wilhelm Maybach, for whom the post of Technical Director of DMG had been created in the syndicate agreement, left the company in a dispute on 11 February 1891. Unacceptable contract conditions prompted this step.
DMG was not destined for commercial success after Maybach's departure. And it is indicative that the inventions of Daimler and Maybach were first put to commercial use above all in France and not in Germany, where scepticism towards the automobile prevailed. Conveniently, Gottlieb Daimler still had useful international contacts from his time at Deutz. In 1889, through Louise Sarazin, the firm Panhard & Levassor in Paris obtained licence rights from Daimler and in the same year began producing two-cylinder V-engines under licence. The income from the licence deals was of vital importance to Gottlieb Daimler.
Daimler engines were also built under licence in the USA. As early as September 1888, Gottlieb Daimler, together with the American piano manufacturer William Steinway, had set up the Daimler Motor Company on Long Island in the state of New York, bringing his patent rights for the USA and Canada into the company. Production of engines commenced there in 1891 but Steinway's untimely death in November 1896 prevented their wide-scale distribution, especially as an automotive drive system.
To cure problems with his heart, Daimler travelled to Florence, Italy, in spring 1893 for a course of treatment. There he met Lina Hartmann again, widow of a Florentine hotelier. He had met her once before when visiting friends in Cannstatt. Daimler's wife Emma had died four years earlier, and he was very struck with Lina, wordly-wise and 22 years his junior. The two married on 8 July 1893 in Schwäbisch Hall. For their honeymoon they chose North America, where they seized the opportunity to visit the World Exposition in Chicago.
Daimler's increasingly difficult relationship with Lorenz and Duttenhofer finally resulted in the two squeezing him out of DMG. In October 1894 they threatened to let the company go bankrupt in the event of Daimler being unwilling to sell them his block of shares, with a nominal value of 200,000 Marks, and the rights to his inventions at a third of the nominal value. Under pressure to avoid bankruptcy, Daimler agreed to these conditions.
Daimler had been pushed out of the company, but this did nothing to improve its fortunes. On the contrary: there was no further technical progress and the financial situation worsened. In dire straits, Duttenhofer and Lorenz fell back on old acquaintances: in 1895 they attempted to win back Wilhelm Maybach for DMG. He refused, saying that he would not return without Daimler. Duttenhofer probably never would have agreed to the return of the two inventors had something else not occurred. The prospect of a business opportunity, which was not just attractive but probably also crucial for the survival of the company, brought about a change of mind in the management of DMG. Thanks to Gottlieb Daimler's diverse international contacts his engine had become a major talking point abroad. A group of English industrialists, whose spokesman was Frederick R. Simms, wished to purchase the rights to Daimler's inventions for the United Kingdom. They were willing to pay the incredible sum of 350,000 Marks for this – but only if Gottlieb Daimler returned to DMG. The Supervisory Board grudgingly accepted this condition in November 1895, as such a generous offer could not be turned down in view of the company's precarious situation.
Daimler was appointed to the Supervisory Board as an expert adviser and general inspector. Against payment of 66,666 Marks he got back the shares worth 200,000 Marks which he had transferred a year earlier. The return of Daimler and Maybach brought the company an undreamt-of boom. Daimler's vision of using his engine as a universal drive unit for vehicles on land, on water and in the air was getting ever closer to becoming reality.
In March 1897 Gottlieb Daimler took over as Chairman of the Supervisory Board of DMG. He had just three years in the post until his untimely death on 6 March 1900. He was laid to rest in the Uff-Kirchhof cemetery in Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt. In June 1902, Daimler was honoured by the Association of German Engineers (VDI), which unveiled a commemorative plaque: a larger-than-life image in relief set in a rock near the Daimler garden house. The house in which Gottlieb Daimler was born in Schorndorf and the garden house in Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt today house museums dedicated to the life and work of the automotive pioneer and company founder.