Birthplace of Mercedes-Benz Founder Carl Benz Discovered

Words John Clark | June 13, 2011
The latest historical research suggests that the inventor of the automobile was born in a guesthouse at Rheinstrasse 22
Words John Clark June 13, 2011

In the year of the 125th anniversary of the automobile, an important gap has now been closed in the life story of Carl Benz, and therefore also in the corporate history of Daimler AG. The latest historical research suggests that the inventor of the automobile was born in a guesthouse at Rheinstrasse 22 in the Mühlburg district of Karlsruhe. The place of his birth had remained previously unknown. However, the house no longer exists, having been knocked down in the 1950s to allow for the widening of Rheinstrasse. The site is today occupied by a department store with adjoining car park. It is planned to erect a small memorial to the inventor in the direct vicinity of the site.

Carl Benz was born on 25 November 1844. His birth was recorded in the church register under the Germanised surname of his mother, Josephine Vaillant: Carl Friedrich Michael Wailand. It was not until one year later, on 16 November 1845, that Carl’s mother married his presumed father, Johann Georg Benz, in the Catholic parish church of St. Stephan. His mother worked as a maid in Karlsruhe from 1833 up until two months before the birth of her son.

This latest evidence is the result of exhaustive new research conducted by the municipality of Karlsruhe, which involved a search of the relevant church registers by the historian Dr Peter Pretsch , director of the local municipal museum at the Municipal Archive and Historical Museums section. Piece by piece, the names of the godfathers revealed a chain of clues: Karl Axtmann, a master shoemaker, and Michael Kramer, a “burgher, innkeeper and brewer”. Axtmann was a relative, because Carl Benz’s paternal great-grandmother was called Axtmann. It is assumed that Axtmann was instrumental in obtaining accommodation for the heavily pregnant Josephine Vaillant at the guesthouse owned by Michael Kramer at Rheinstrasse 22. As home births were the norm in those days, it is reasonable to conclude that this was the place where Carl Benz was born. Kramer’s guesthouse was later given the name “Stadt Karlsruhe”.

After their wedding, Josephine and Johann Georg Benz moved with their child to Erbprinzenstrasse 13 in Karlsruhe – another finding to emerge from the latest research, discovered in this case with reference to the 1846 street register. Benz was an engine driver with Baden Railways. Being required to perform his work in the open cabs of the steam locomotives of those days, he contracted pneumonia, from which he died in the summer of 1846 – not quite two years after the birth of his son. Thereafter, his widow provided board and lodging in Karlsruhe to students from the polytechnic school in order to finance her son’s studies.

Carl Benz first attended the scientific grammar school in Karlsruhe. Aged 15, he passed the entrance examination for the polytechnic school on 30 September 1860. Four years later, on 9 July 1864, he successfully completed his studies, after which he began work as a mechanic. Having moved to Mannheim in connection with his work, he married Bertha Ringer on 20 July 1872. In 1885 h e built his first petrol-engined automobile, a three‑wheeler, for which he filed a patent application on 29 January 1886 (German Imperial Patent No. 37.435). The patent specification may be considered the birth certificate of the automobile. Carl Benz died on 4 April 1929 in Ladenburg. Consequently, he lived long enough to witness the triumph of his invention – in contrast to Gottlieb Daimler, who died as early as 1900.