Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Jewish History of the Mercedes

If you ask most people if they know what the Jewish connection is to Mercedes brand automobiles, they might guess that it was the boycott placed on the German car by many Jews of the first post-Holocaust generation. The real connection, however, is the creation of the car itself.

The first Mercedes was built by Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft at the behest of Emil Jellenik and, at his specification, was named for his daughter Mercedes. Jellenik, the son of a Viennese rabbi, was born on April 6, 1853. He made his fortune trading in North Africa, where he moved while in the diplomatic service. In 1889, he returned to Vienna with his wife and two sons. His daughter was born that same year.

An early fan of the new automobile, Jellenik ordered his first Daimler in 1897. The next year, he ordered two more, and then sold them to his wealthy friends. This pattern of buying and selling cars continued (he even sold one to Baron Henri de Rothschild). Eventually, however, Jellenik began demanding increased speed capability. The engineers at Daimler, most notably Wilhelm Maybach, hesitantly agreed and were often shocked at their own successes.

In 1900, Jellenik made his most outrageous demand - an automobile with 35 horsepower. Jellenik suggested a remodelling of the automobile body to create a lower, lighter, longer and wider machine. This automobile, which Jellenik raced in 1901 in Nice, France, was the first Mercedes. Jellenik made certain that people knew that the Mercedes racing car could also be made in a touring (4 seater) edition. Sales took off, and, thanks to Jellenik’s prodding, the Mercedes became enormously popular and changed automobile history.

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