On the Move (2018 | Issue 1)

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Strokes of Genius - Famous German Inventors

We spend most of our lives commuting by some form of public transport. Our daily hustle begins and ends with either an auto rickshaw, bus, taxi or train ride. Ever wondered who were the people behind these amazing inventions? What’s Up, Germany? gives you interesting insights into the lives of some great German inventors, one wheel at a time.

Karl Benz

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Karl Benz

When German engineer Karl Benz designed and built the world’s first practical car powered by an internal combustion engine in 1885, hardly anyone took notice. That is, not until his wife, Bertha, took the car without asking him on a long-distance journey to see her mother. She had to buy fuel at chemist shops and made repairs with her hairpin and garter belt! This test drive caught the public’s imagination, and Karl soon received a patent for his motorcar.

Gottlieb Daimler & Wilhelm Maybach

Engineers Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach experimented with a single-cylinder engine nicknamed the “grandfather clock”. In 1885, they shrunk it, attached it to a wooden two-wheeler and gave birth to the world’s first motorcycle, or what they called the Reitwagen (riding car). By 1889, they started building cars and launched their own company. Ten years later, they named a car Mercedes, in honour of Mercedes Jellinek, a customer’s daughter. Eventually, Daimler’s and Benz’s companies merged, forming Daimler-Benz, and the Mercedes-Benz was born.

Werner von Siemens

In 1834, Werner had to leave school without a degree due to lack of money. That very year he joined a training programme at the Artillery and Engineering School in Berlin, which provided a solid foundation for his future work. He built the first electric train in 1879 and showcased it at the Berlin Trade Fair.

Rudolf Diesel

Confined to a hospital bed after an accident, mechanical engineer Rudolf Diesel created a diesel engine that could run on just about any fuel, including peanut oil! Sadly, this pioneer of biofuels never lived to see any success. In 1913, while travelling on a ship from Germany to England, he fell overboard and drowned. There are conspiracy theories surrounding his death.

Rudolf Diesel

What’s Up, Germany? Fun Transport Facts

  • Advertising Age voted the Volkswagen Beetle’s “Think Small” ad campaign as the best in the last 100 years. The slogan was written by Julian König, the same person who came up with the moniker Earth Day.
  • Delhi Metro’s escalators are equipped with a unique sari guard feature that prevents loose garments from getting stuck in the moving stairs.
  • The world’s first travel agency was created by the Englishman Thomas Cook. He organised a train journey for around 500 people in 1841 and, encouraged by its success, set up shop.
  • Japan’s Shinkansen bullet trains are cleaned by a crew in seven minutes flat! The clean-up job is referred to as “Shinkansen Theatre”.
  • Maglev, Shanghai’s magnetic levitation trains built with German technology, can cover 30 kilometres in eight minutes! Since there is no contact between the train and the track, they barely make a sound.
  • Amazon is planning to use small drones to deliver packages up to five pounds in 30 minutes or less through its Prime Air service. It conducted a trial run in December 2016, delivering a package containing an Amazon Fire TV stick and a bag of popcorn to a customer’s garden in the UK.
  • Jules Verne, author of the famous science-fiction adventure, 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, inspired real-life inventors like marine engineer Simon Lake, co-developer of the aqualung Jacques Cousteau and helicopter designer Igor Sikorsky.
  • Exploring the unknown continues to fascinate man, and space travel tops the list. In 2001, after training for 900 hours and shelling out $20 million, American multi-millionaire Dennis Tito became the first space tourist.
  • The BMW M5 engine is so silent that the company generates engine noise in the car through its speakers, all for customer satisfaction!
  • Charles Goodyear invented vulcanised rubber, which is used to make tyres, completely by mistake! While experimenting with rubber and sulphur, he accidentally dropped a piece on a hot stove and it charred like leather. Charles immediately knew he was onto something good: weatherproof rubber.

“Not every innovation in transportation is going to come from government or even a large enterprise.
There are smart people out there with tools and skills to come up with great ideas.”
— Anthony Foxx, founder, Related Infrastructure