Gottlieb Daimler (1834-1900): Pioneer in automobile engineering

GOTTLIEB DAIMLER WAS born on March 17, 1834 in a village near Stuttgart, Germany. He became a gunsmith's apprentice in 1848 when his technical training began and continued until 1862. In the mean time, he gained factory experience (1853-57) in a Strasbourg engineering works and completed in 1859 the requirements of diploma engineer at the Stuttgart Polytechnic.

By now, he had already recognised the need for a small low-cost engine, which he was unable to develop. Sponsored by a leading industrialist, he went in 1861 on a tour to England and France. He worked in the firm of Joseph Whitworth (1803-87) and acquired the skill in handling machine tools. In Paris, he saw the new engine developed by Jean Lenior (1822-1900).

Daimler spent the next ten years in heavy engineering: Bruderhaus Maschinenfabrik, Reutlingen (1863-69) and Maschinenbau Gessellschaft, Karlsruhe (1869-72). In 1863 he met Wilhelm Maybach (1847- 1929), with whom he was closely associated for the rest of his life.

In 1872, his interests turned to the internal combustion engine, when he joined Gasmotorenfabrik Deutz as technical director. Here he teamed up with Nikolaus Otto (TheHindu, October 9, 2000) and Peter Langen for the next ten years, studying gas engines and perhaps also petrol engines. This resulted in Otto's historic patent (1876).

In 1875 the Deutz board directed Daimler to develop a petrol engine, but with the commercial development of the Otto four- cycle engine in 1876 this plan seemed to have been dropped. Daimler left the firm in 1881, when differences of opinion arose; he bought a house in a suburb of Stuttgart and in collaboration with Maybach, he set up here a factory for developing light high- speed internal combustion engine. They had the idea of applying it to vehicle propulsion from the very beginning.

At first the development of a reliable self-firing ignition system seemed impossible but after many trials, an air-cooled single- cylinder engine operating at 900 rpm was evolved and patented in 1883.

The use of petrol was not new: in 1870 Julius Hock of Vienna had built an engine working on Lenoir's principle. A piston drew in half-a- cylinder-full of mixture, which was fired when the piston was halfway down the cylinder. Without compression, the power produced was very low and the consumption of fuel was heavy.

The genius of Daimler and Maybach is seen in combining of the four elements that constitute the car engine: the four-stroke Otto cycle, the vaporisation of the fuel, low weight and high speed. Lenoir had used electric ignition, which proved to be unreliable. Daimler and Maybach employed an igniter tube that was light and operated independently of the engine speed.

Further refinements followed; by 1885 the petrol engine was reduced in size and fitted to a motor cycle. In 1889, Daimler produced two cars, and granted a licence to Panhard and Levassor to sell them in France.

The first was a light four-wheeler with a tubular frame and a vertical, single-cylinder, water-cooled engine in the rear. It had novel features: four-speed gear transmission to the rear wheels and cooling water circulated through the frame which acted as a radiator. The second car had a belt drive and a two cylinder V-engine.

In 1890 the Daimler Motors Ltd was founded; but following police disagreements Daimler and Maybach continued separately their experimental work, exhibiting engines at Chicago in 1893 and entering road races to establish the utility of the automobile.

Daimler returned to his firm in 1895 in full charge, after which the Daimler engines, under various names, entered the motor industry. He died on March 6, 1900, at Stuttgart.

(The Hutchinson Dictionary of Scientific Diography, Helicon Publishing Ltd., Oxford 1994.)

R. Parthasarathy