German automotive manufacturer Mercedes-Benz lays claim to building the first car, essentially a three-wheeled trike or “motorwagen” patented in 1886. Karl Benz’s creation eventually led to the formation of Mercedes-Benz, one of the most renowned automotive brands in the world.
The Benz Motor Car No. 1 may have been the first car, but there were other attempts to build motorized conveyances. Nevertheless, Benz’s model was the first practical vehicle to rely on the internal combustion engine to propel the vehicle.
The Mercedes-Benz moniker wasn’t used until 1926, with its origins credited to Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft or Daimler Motors Corporation, itself founded by Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach. In 1926, the Daimler and Benz companies merged, producing a new brand. Today, Mercedes-Benz is often simply referred to as “Mercedes.”
Early on, Mercedes showed its innovative side, developing the first multi-valve engine in 1910 and a supercharged engine in 1921. In 1931, Mercedes introduced four-wheel independent suspension followed by the first diesel-powered car five years later, the Mercedes-Benz 170 Da. The 170 series was the most popular model of that era with production resumed after World War II.
During the 1950s, several new models were released, underscoring the company’s recovery and market leadership. The Mercedes-Benz Type 300 was its largest model, available in coupe, sedan, limousine and cabriolet versions. The 300 SL Gullwing was also produced, later offered as an open roadster. The Gullwing was also the first model imported to the U.S. and in 1957 the company signed a distribution agreement with Studebaker-Packard to sell its cars stateside. By 1965, Mercedes-Benz USA was formed and began selling its cars directly.
U.S. growth from the 1960s to the 1980s was slow, but steady with early models such as the Mercedes-Benz 600, 280 and SL-Class shaping the brand. By the 1990s, Mercedes was positioned to challenge for luxury brand leadership, releasing its compact C-Class in 1993 followed by its midsize E-Class two years later.
The C-Class, also known as the “Baby Benz,” helped bring the brand to the masses. This model is known for its cutting edge design, industry leading safety features and high-end craftsmanship. Together with the E-Class, the two model lines fueled brand growth and led to new models such as the CLK-Class sports car.
Brand growth accelerated in the new millennium as Mercedes expanded its SUV lines beyond the G-Class to release models such as the R-Class and the M-Class. Mercedes also introduced the CLA-Class, a new entry-level car line to slot below the C-Class.
Through the years, Mercedes has shown its racing prowess too, buying the AMG performance brand in 1999 and producing such models as the S63 AMG and the CLA45 AMG. The performance brand has since been renamed Mercedes-AMG and is a direct competitor to BMW M and the Cadillac V-Series.
Mercedes is also a leader in diesel technology and connected car technologies and is involved in vehicle electrification with its B-Class electric drive model.