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Why Mercedes-Benz's Founder Would Be Grinning If He Visited Atlanta Today

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta, Georgia Photo Credit:

The origin of the hood ornament

What was once a simple vehicle instrument to monitor engine temperature is now arguably the strongest indicator of any automotive brand. The temperature of a vehicle's engine has always been important, but this technology has evolved quite a bit. In early automobile manufacturing, a motometer was a thermometer that monitored the temperature inside the radiator and stood on top of the radiator near the front of the car's engine compartment. Since form followed function, early motometers were not aesthetically pleasing. Auto manufacturers quickly began embellishing them with wings and other artistic elements to differentiate their brand if not simply to add character to this device.

In the 1920s, motometers became obsolete as engine temperature gauges were relocated to the dashboard and most manufacturers soon enclosed the radiator inside a protective grill. However, the radiator cap was still exposed above the grill or hood and was the location where many manufacturers used "mascots" to bring special attention to their brand. Brand mascots, or logos, are also considered "marques" and sit prominently on the front of nearly every vehicle ever since.

Vintage Mercedes-Benz radiator cap

Any Mercedes-Benz owner likely has a lot of pride in their vehicle and in particular the three-pointed star hood ornament itself as it sits on the front of their car or SUV. As important as that star is to any owner there was a very special significance that the three-pointed star had to Gottlieb Daimler, co-founder of Mercedes-Benz.

Gottlieb Diamler (1834 -1900)

Gottlieb Daimler, founded Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) in 1890 and invested his professional life designing and manufacturing engines for a variety of applications. Daimler began building engines for use on water. The Neckar, was a 15 foot boat which utilized a Daimler engine, named for the Neckar river on which the boat was tested. This first petrol-powered motorboat was a feat and a first of its kind.

Neckar Boat replica

Marine application was very successful for Daimler, but he soon applied his engines to airships. Although not well known, Daimler also flew the first airship in history in 1888 by adapting one of his engines to fit a balloon. Following the success of this initial application, Daimler designed and supplied engines to Wilhelm Maybach for the Zeppelin Company. Daimler was indeed successful in producing engines for sea and air.

Wolfert Daimler Airship 600 cc 2 hp

In the beginning of Daimler’s automobile production, the vehicles caught the eye of an affluent businessman by the name of Emil Jellinek. With his stature, Jellinek began to promote the Daimler automobile within the higher echelons of society. Jellinek himself purchased a number of Daimler automobiles as his enthusiasm for autos and auto racing increased. By the turn of the century, Jellinek was racing Daimler cars under the team and driver designation of ‘Herr Mercedes,’ the name of his daughter, the first born of his eight children. Stay tuned for the article we will be posting soon as the story of Emil Jellinek's relationship with Mercedes-Benz is a story in and of itself and one worth sharing.

Emil Jellinek

Jellinek sought to produce through Daimler a faster and more advanced racing car. These new high-powered cars built by DMG contained an engine bearing the name Daimler-Mercedes. With racing success and numerous automobile innovations attributed to these new production cars, DMG registered ‘Mercedes’ as a trade name in 1902. Gottlieb achieved the vision he had always wanted for his brand, successfully applying his engines for the sea, air, and land as represented by the three points on the three-pointed star.

Stuttgart main train station with Mercedes-Benz star

In 1900, Gottlieb passed away, but his engines and his legacy continues to live on as a symbol of prosperity for now well over a century. The three-pointed star was incredibly significant to Gottlieb. Initially used to mark Daimler’s home on a photograph, which he later referenced when he told his wife the star would one day stand above his own factory symbolizing prosperity. This seemingly simple yet elegant three-pointed star crisply represented for Gottlieb the successful application and worthiness of his engines for sea, air, and land. This star can be seen today as one visits Stuttgart, Germany and looks out at the city skyline, a prophecy realized, and an image I experienced first hand when I backpacked through Europe right after graduating from college. The three-pointed star could be seen in several prominent locations, even atop the Stuttgart main train station. My traveling companions were not as enthusiastic about cars as was I, but I convinced them to let us add a stop on our journey to one automotive Mecca. We agreed on Stuttgart and it was for several reasons a delight for this car enthusiast.

Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana

More recently, the Daimler star has been a prominent icon on the stadium of the New Orleans Saints NFL football stadium, the Superdome, and in some minds is a symbol of hope and strength for that city and region following hurricane Katrina in 2005 where thousands took shelter. And the three-pointed star will soon rest prominently on the top of the "oculus" of the Pantheon-inspired football arena of the Atlanta Falcons NFL team. This stadium is currently under construction in Mercedes-Benz's new North American headquarters, Atlanta which will host the Super Bowl in 2019. Little did Gottlieb know that his beloved three-pointed star would not just shine down on the city he loved, but would be enormous icons several other cities around the globe.

Renderings of Atlanta's Mercedes-Benz Stadium, under construction

In 1909, Gottlieb's two sons, Paul and Adolf, were determining the right choice for the next image for the brand. They referenced that aforementioned photograph on which their father drew a star to mark the location of his home and represented a guiding beacon of the success he desired for his brand. Upon this recollection, the unanimous decision was made to adopt the three-pointed star as the primary image for the company. Finally in 1923 the company trademarked the three-dimensional three-pointed star enclosed in a circle and it has remained in use proudly ever since.

The location of the Mercedes-Benz star

The star for Mercedes-Benz is certainly very important as is how the star is adorned on the various Mercedes-Benz models. For many years the star would be placed as follows for each vehicle category, or "class" as Mercedes-Benz considers them.

For coupes, convertibles, SUVs, and roadsters the three-pointed star is located inside the grill and typically enlarged to fill the grill. For sedans, or "saloons" as referred to in German, the three pointed star is relatively smaller in size and stands up on top of the vehicle's hood as it has for its entire history of application. This became slightly complicated as new model variants such as "coupe sedans" like the CLS class were introduced. Typically the "coupe" takes precedent over the "sedan" and the location of the star follows suit being placed inside the grill.

Thank you for reading, please connect with us on Facebook. And be sure to visit us again as we look forward to curating more car stories and celebrating them with you,

Jared & Jim

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