History of the Mercedes-Benz Museum before 2006

Feb 12, 2016
Historical collections were already maintained by the founding companies Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) and Benz & Cie. They maintained these collections for their own purposes, e.g. safeguarding patents. From the very early 20th century onwards, these vehicles were also repeatedly displayed at exhibitions. They stand for the invention of the automobile, for originality and for the history of the world's oldest car brands. The systematic assembly of a historical vehicle collection began in 1923. In 1936 the first "proper" museum came into being, and this was conceived as a public exhibition from the start. A further important milestone was reached in 1961: the first purpose-designed museum building was constructed.
The Mercedes-Benz Museum of 1936 was designed as an exhibition, and was aimed at the wider public. The occasion for establishing it in rooms on the site of the Untertürkheim plant was the 50th anniversary of the invention of the automobile. "In this exhibition, great care has been taken to bring together all documented Daimler and Benz products from the starting year 1883 onwards which represent important stages in the development of motorisation," says the Museum guide of 1938. The collection could not be viewed for very long, however, as the Museum was cleared on the outbreak of the Second World War. To protect the exhibits from military attacks on the plant, they were stored in different places elsewhere.
Postwar reconstruction – and a new beginning for the collection
After the Second World War the first priority for Mercedes-Benz was to reconstruct its damaged plants and restart production. The historical collection was also brought together again, however. What was missing was suitable premises where the exhibits could be shown to the public. They were forthcoming in 1951: the next Mercedes-Benz Museum was opened on-site and visited by around 7000 people in the same year. The presentation of original vehicles from more than six decades was all the more fascinating because Mercedes-Benz was increasingly distancing itself from pre-war technology with its new models.
The plant in Untertürkheim gradually expanded, and the Museum too expanded its collection. In the 1950s the historic exhibition was therefore obliged to relocate three times. In 1955 the planning began for a large, new Mercedes-Benz Museum as a purpose-designed building on the site of the Untertürkheim plant.
1961: The first new Museum building
In 1961 the Mercedes-Benz Museum was ceremoniously opened to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the automobile. A much-acclaimed home for the collection dedicated to the brand history of Mercedes-Benz came into being between the office buildings and plant workshops. It had 42,000 cubic metres of enclosed space and a total area of around 3250 square metres, of which 1200 square metres were display area. The exhibition with around 100 vehicles and other exhibits was an expression of continuity, from the invention of the automobile to the technical innovations of recent years. However, the Museum also widened its gaze beyond 1886 and into the past, in search of the inventions and experiments that led to the independent development of the motor vehicle by Daimler and Benz. In addition to the historical collection, the current Mercedes-Benz model range could now also be seen on the ground floor directly by the entrance. A wish first expressed in the 1950s had therefore come true.
The reactions to the new Museum were very positive. In previous years and provisional premises, the number of visitors had meanwhile increased to a level of around 60,000 to 80,000 per year, of which just under half came from other countries. When the new Museum opened, these visitor numbers increased substantially. 95,127 visitors already came to the Museum in the opening year, 26,732 of them from other countries. In 1963 the guide service registered the 750,000th visitor since the postwar reopening in 1951, the one-millionth visitor followed in 1966 and in 1973 the Museum welcomed its two-millionth visitor. The visitors were meanwhile coming from more than 130 countries.
100 Years of the Automobile – a new concept for the Museum
The Museum was comprehensively restructured for the "100 Years of the Automobile" anniversary in 1986. The 25 year-old building was given a new front with a continuous glass facade, and a roof over the inner courtyard expanded the enclosed space. The display area increased to 5760 square metres, and provided refreshingly new access to the collection: The visitor could choose either a chronological walk through the exhibition or visit a selection of the 26 topic areas depending on interest. A particular emphasis was placed on the motor racing history: the display was for the most part installed on ramps leading from one storey to the next. Mercedes-Benz also broke new technical ground with the introduction of a digital audio guide which gave visitors information about the individual exhibits. The new concept was developed by the architects Dieter Hermann, Knut Lohrer and HG Merz. Once again the Museum received a flood of visitors. A new visitor record was achieved in 2004: more than 500,000 people visited the Museum that year, more than ever before since the opening in 1961.
The company continued to develop and expand. To ensure that the brand presentation would keep pace, the decision to construct a new building was taken at the start of the new millennium. It was to be located outside the gates of the plant, and to be spectacular in every respect: The presentation concept and architecture harmonise perfectly. The inventor of the automobile gives its products from all eras the perfect backdrop. The commission for the Museum's concept once again went to HG Merz.
The first exhibits destined for the new Museum were removed in February 2005. The space now made vacant in the old Museum provided the opportunity for a series of exciting exhibitions and presentations. One exhibition entitled "The Countdown is Running" was dedicated to the legendary C 111 experimental cars with which Mercedes-Benz tested the Wankel engine among other things and set standards for sports car design in the 1970s. Another project was the "Mercedes-Simplex Parade", a special exhibition with thirteen of these first modern automobiles – the oldest dating from 1902 – which was held until March 2006. Just a few months before it was closed, these special exhibitions gave an added fascination to last visits to the old Museum.