What about Mercedes?

G. L. Filkovsky,
Nomura Securities International,
New York, USA

The July issue of TRIZ Journal, on the front page, introduces their friendly website, Generator, http://www.gnrtr.com, from Nikolay Shpakovsky and Elena Novitskaja. Since I remember their saga of creation an abbreviation "gnrtr" from the word "generator" (see "Using TRIZ to Create an Internet Address for the “GENERATOR” Website" and the subsequent Review of the January 2003 issue of the TRIZ-journal) - I have had a good laugh then - I was curious to see, what's behind the name. It seems, that Shpakovsky has a special interest in names, since the site has in its very beginning an article, How "Mercedes" was born, which supposed to be about a simple systemic transformation but actually has not much to do with it and is rather a story of the famous car brand name. Here it is:

In 1899, during a race, a certain gentleman came up to Daimler automobile and introduced himself as Emile Jellinek, consul, Czech by nationality. Jellinek was remote from technological matters, but he asked why the automobile layout was so irrational. And he proposed to arrange the main units horizontally one after another - the engine in the front part of the automobile and the cabin with passengers immediately after the engine. That promised an abrupt decrease in the automobile height and improvement of its stability. Daimler quickly built such a car, the famous "Model 35PSD". The race results outreached his most optimistic expectations - his two cars that participated in the mountain race from Nice to Kastelleine won the first and the second prize traveling with the maximal speed of 80 km/hr. It was a great success, and Daimler invited Jellinek to be their partner. But Jellinek was reach enough, had his own interests and purposes in life, so he gave up that proposal. He only required that all the cars to be manufactured by Daimler take the name from his daughter Mercedes Jellinek, by way of compensation.

This is a very cute story. There is one problem with it - it is not true. Let's start with the name. There are a few versions one can easily find on Internet, which differ in details, but have the following common base line: (this example is from http://www.mbcags.org/mercedes.htm)

On 16th September 1889, a third child was born to businessman Emil Jellinek in Vienna. Rachel and Emil Jellinek gave their daughter a Spanish Christian name which means "grace" and later became world-famous: Mercedes. Emil Jellinek moved his operations to Nice, taking his family with him. As Mercedes grew up, her father developed a passionate interest in automobiles, then in their infancy, and it was not long before the Daimler-Motoren Gesellschaft caught his attention. In 1893, Emil Jellinek travelled to Cannstatt and made the acquaintance of Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach. In the years which followed he bought a number of Daimler vehicles. In 1898,Jellinek ordered a Daimler Phoenix, requesting it to be delivered with a four-cylinder engine. He then drove the car in the Tour de Nice. Since it was chic at the time to enter automobile competitions under a pseudonym, Jellinek appeared in the competitors' lists under the name Mercedes. Emil Jellinek, alias "Monsieur Mercedes", first won the Tour de Nice on 21st March 1899, when his daughter was just nine and a half years old. In 1900, the Daimler- Motoren Gesellschaft again improved on the design, by enlarging the wheelbase, lowering the center of gravity and increasing engine power. Emil Jellinek was so taken with this design that he put in an order for thirty-six cars, worth 550,000 gold marks. He made his order subject to two conditions: firstly he must be made sole agent in Austria-Hungary, France and America. Secondly, the vehicles must be named after his daughter, Mercedes. The name caught on so well that soon the Daimler-Motoren Gesellschaft used it for all its cars and in 1902, a trademark was taken out. The "Mercedes" era had begun.

Quite different from the GNRTR's legend, isn't it?

OK, the people's history presented by Shpakovsky et al, is wrong - may be the technical history is right? No, the technical history is wrong, too. The Phoenix model that Jellinek bought from Daimler in 1898 and drove in Nice, was the first to feature a front-mounted engine (see it on the Mercedes-Benz official site). The first Mercedes appeared in 1901. It characterized by powerful lightweight engines, long wheelbase and low center of gravity. The revolutionary systemic transformation Shpakovsky et al talk about, i.e. putting engine in front of cabin, had nothing to do with Jellinek or his daughter. Also, Daimler died in 1900 and the Mercedes was developed by Wilhelm Maybach.

May be, the Mercedes history of 1901 is not that important, really. The question in 2003 is: what is the GNRTR site good for? The first look into it gives a partial but certain answer: a source of knowledge it is NOT.