Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Legacy of brand eponym Mercédès Jellinek in the Daimler archive

The recently-discovered and only known picture of Mercédès Jellinek at the wheel of a Mercedes, 1906
Image courtesy of Mercedes-Benz Classic Archives.

Legacy of brand eponym Mercédès Jellinek in the Daimler archive

Girls' names have often been used as appellations for motor cars, with Elise, Giulietta, Clio and Megane just some of the more recent examples.  However this custom can in fact be traced back to the very dawn of the motor car thanks to an associate of the de facto "fathers" of the automobile Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler.

This associate was Austrian businessman Emil Jellinek who, like many wealthy men at the turn of the last century, took an instant liking to the new-fangled motorised carriage.  He became one of the top customers for both Daimler and Benz (at that time still separate companies), eventually becoming a salesman of sorts by recommending the cars of both manufacturers to his equally rich friends.  He also entered his cars in the motor races of the time and was by all accounts a huge influence on Daimler's and Benz's designs and motorsport entries.

If there was one thing Emil Jellinek loved more than his cars, though, it was his daughter Mercédès Adrienne Manuela Ramona Jellinek who was born in Vienna in 1889.  His adoration of her was clearly evident - among other things naming one of his boats after her and unveiling a large picture of her at the 1902 Paris Automobile Exhibition.

It is thanks to this devotion on the part of Emil Jellinek that the car which today sports a three-pointed star on its nose is called a Mercedes, for in 1899 he named his Daimler "Phoenix" 28hp race car just that and later in April 1900 convinced Daimler boss Wilhelm Maybach (Gottlieb Daimler having passed away in March of that year) that the next Daimler model should officially be titled "Mercedes".  When Daimler and Benz finally merged in 1926 it was agreed that, although the company's official name would be Daimler-Benz (and indeed today is Daimler AG) the Mercedes prefix would be kept - giving rise to the now famous Mercedes-Benz.

Image courtesy of Mercedes-Benz Classic Archives
Mercedes Jellinek herself was never very interested in cars but was no stranger to scandal.  In 1909 she married the Austrian Baron Karl Schlosser (seen with her in this photo, left, believed to have been taken during their honeymoon in Nice) and had two children but by 1918 they were penniless and forced to beg in the streets.  It was then that Mercédès left the Baron Schlosser and married Baron Rudolf von Weigl, a struggling sculptor.  Little more of her life was known, and she tragically died in Vienna in 1929 at the age of 39 from bone cancer.

The lady with the green eyes

Now the Mercedes-Benz Archives are naturally a-twitter following the donation, from the godchild of her son Hans-Peter Schlosser, of 3 albums-worth of photographs and documents detailing Mercédès Jellinek's life, as well as the formative years of the company we know today.  Although details are thin on the ground it would seem as though papers including her birth certificate, plus other documents detailing previously unknown facts such as her eye- and hair-colour, are included in this discovery.  Perhaps far and away the best part, though, is the 300-odd photographs showing scenes from her life.  This is all the more remarkable considering that until now only one photo of Mercédès Jellinek was thought to exist, showing her as a little girl around the turn of the century.

Mercédès Jellinek (left).  Image courtesy of Mercedes-Benz Classic Archives.

It seems odd that so little was known about this important period of an international company's history, if not the life of one of its most influential people. Once the Mercedes-Benz Archives have gone through this treasure-trove of material, however, I feel sure we shall be hearing more about Mercédès Jellinek and the early years of the car company to which she gave her name.

A one horsepower Mercédès(!).  Image courtesy of Mercedes-Benz Classic Archive.

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