The foundation of a corporate archive in 1936 was a necessary step for the then Daimler-Benz AG. The timing was chosen for its symbolic significance – exactly 50 years after the invention of the automobile. The aim was to preserve this half-century using the documentary records and lay the groundwork for collecting these kinds of documents in future.
It was an eventful era that ushered in groundbreaking technical developments for the evolution of the automobile. In this period the automobile became an important mode of transport and powerful item of sports equipment, new plants were set up, and in 1926 the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft from Stuttgart merged with Benz & Cie. from Mannheim to create Daimler-Benz AG, thus giving rise to the Mercedes-Benz brand. But these decades also bore witness to the First World War and the Great Depression, along with the massive blaze that engulfed the Daimler plant in Cannstatt.
This era must actually have left behind a wealth of documentary records. And yet anyone looking in the mid-1930s for a central location where documents would cast light on the former Daimler-Benz in this period would be sadly disappointed. Clearly nobody was really aware of the historical potential of documents from daily operations. Since Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler changed individual mobility forever with their Patent Motor Car and motorised cab in 1886, many documents had simply been lost – a fact Max Rauck quickly realised while completing the preparatory research for setting up the archive. In September 1935 the engineer reported to the Board of Management that there was „only very little historical material […] in our company“. Meanwhile, the company’s employees still failed to appreciate the importance of the archive: in response to a circular dated March 1935, the engineer received „only a handful of historical material“.
In the company there was a realisation early on that innovation arose particularly against the background of tradition. In 1899, Daimler not only showcased the latest models at the Paris Automobile Salon but also the motorised cab from 1886 – visitors of the day viewed the 13-year-old vehicle as a bizarre classic vehicle, with the new automobiles worlds apart from the comparatively simple technology in their forerunner.
A key milestone in this analysis of the product history through exhibits comes in the shape of the museum work, which began back in the days of DMG in Untertürkheim. But only with the inauguration in 1936 of the first Mercedes-Benz Museum open to the public does the museum become an integral part of the public perception of the brand and company.
A new culture of document management
The gaps in the material for the fledgling archive collection essentially related to documents. For instance, the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft decided in November 1924 to destroy almost without exception the contents of its archives that covered the period from the company’s foundation through to January 1919. The decision may have been taken for entirely practical reasons: in May 1924, DMG founded a community of interests with Benz & Cie., which was an important step along the way to the merger in 1926. Against the backdrop of this new cooperation, DMG at the time no longer believed their old archive material from the period before the First World War important enough to transfer to a new, joint archive.
Nonetheless, two copy books belonging to Gottlieb Daimler and Max Duttenhofer were retained, along with vehicle records, order books and engine books. Rauck also turned up historical letters as well as newspapers and magazines. A copy book was an accounts book – required under law at the time in Germany – that was used to enter business correspondence. Other periodicals existed in the plant library – in total these printed sources went back to the year 1898. The collection of photographs („some in albums, some collected loosely, unfortunately with no details of the type of the object or the year of construction“) and catalogues as well as operating instructions („unfortunately not complete“) nonetheless also formed a sound base.
By contrast, the material found at Benz & Cie was extremely sparse: „I didn’t manage to find any historical material whatsoever on the company Benz“, Rauck reported back to the Board of Management, „even though apparently all the historical documentation is supposed to have been transferred to Untertürkheim when the companies merged in 1926.“ Where the material ended up is uncertain. In any case no historical documents whatsoever were left at the Mannheim plant – despite the budding archivist asking on several occasions.
The search for documentation of the company’s own history therefore proved a challenge. One exception came in the shape of the patents filed by Daimler-Benz AG and its predecessor organisations: „The Patent Department has kept all the old patents“, Rauck reported in his letter to the Board of Management in 1935. The oldest patents filed by Daimler and Benz, virtually the birth certificates of the automobile, currently form part of the archive, while the Patent Department still looks after collecting all the other historical patent documents. And further successes were also reported in 1935: Rauck described the photo archive taken over from Berlin-Marienfelde as „very interesting and complete“, and he got back from Berlin a file believed to have been lost that included old newspaper reports about Benz & Cie.
In summer 2011, UNESCO underscored just how visionary preserving the patents from the early days of the company’s history actually was: Carl Benz’s patent document from 1886 for a „vehicle with gas-engine drive“ together with a bundle of other documents on the invention of the automobile were added to the World Document Heritage on 15 July. This accolade is not just testimony to the unique importance of these documents, but also to Daimler’s ongoing archival work.
The go-ahead for the archive
The Daimler-Benz AG Board of Management decided shortly after receiving the report to turn the project of a corporate archive into reality. As such, Daimler-Benz AG was following the lead taken by large German corporations such as Krupp and Siemens. The historical archive of Friedrich Krupp AG was regarded in its day as the most important industrial archive in Germany, having been founded in 1905. The Siemens archive followed in 1907. These models would be the benchmark used in Stuttgart in the future: „Anyone wanting to look seriously at the history of the automobile and engines will need our historical archive“, was the conclusion of a report drawn up shortly after the archive was founded, which compared the archives maintained by Krupp and Siemens with the new Daimler-Benz archive.
The issuance of administrative order number 1145 dated 9 December 1936 is regarded as the official foundation date of the Daimler archive. Yet the planning and preliminary work started earlier, with Rauck’s research dating back to early 1935. And on 16 September 1935, Rauck was commissioned to start systematically documenting the existing material, at the instance of Board member Wilhelm Kissel.
A space „in which all historical material (photos, written works, printed papers, etc.) should be preserved“ – the idea was to open up the archive in the winter of 1935/36. As early as 1935, senior management stressed that the history of the entire Group including all its locations should be documented centrally: „This measure is naturally not only limited to the Untertürkheim plant, but extends to the other Group plants.“
A start was made on setting up the archive by searching for existing historical material on the one hand and setting up an infrastructure to hand over important documentation from current daily business on the other. This second aspect also lay at the heart of administrative order no. 1145 dated 9 December 1936, which is regarded as the official foundation date of the corporate archive. The order, which was made public by means of notices and circulars to the departmental heads, read:
„We have commissioned Mr Max Rauck Dipl.-Ing. to collect and sort through our historical written and pictorial material in order to set up and manage a historical archive, and hereby order that all our company’s locations assist Mr Rauck in carrying out the said task and, in particular, point out at their own initiative any existing material in their working area and provide him with appropriate access. Mr Rauck is entitled to add any pictorial and written works, provided these no longer have any current practical value, to the archive he is about to set up.“
The importance of the archive for Daimler AG is also manifest in the current „Group policy on the corporate archive“. Similar to the administrative order from 1936, the policy sets out at Board of Management level for all companies and employees of the Daimler Group worldwide that the corporate archive as Daimler AG’s memory fulfils all tasks of archive management and has a guideline function for Group-wide uniform standards when taking over, evaluating, opening up and preserving archive material. The policy expressly emphasises that the tasks of the archive extend equally to digital and analogue documents and information, thus ensuring proper archiving for the present and future.
In 1937, the archive presented its organisational plan in which the importance of collaboration between individual locations was once again highlighted: it was „urgently required to make all plants within the Group aware of the extraordinary value of the historical central archive and to ask them to preserve all material of historical value and to transfer the material to the historical central archive when requested to do so“.
Organisationally the archive unit was assigned to the Exhibitions department, which was also responsible for representing the company at motor shows as well as for designing exhibition spaces at sales and service outlets, and dealers. The tasks of the associated unit, the „Historical Area“, were set out in an internal report dated 20 October 1937 and included „setting up and continuing the archive, collecting and supporting hist[orical] objects and documents belonging to the Group, preparing lit[erary] work in this connection, museum issues, managing the historical material“.
Assess and preserve
The archive’s organisational plan from the same year proved visionary: the aim was to collect a wide range of documents, with a minimum time lag between origination of the documents and collection. In this way, the collected material on a certain vehicle model, for instance, was kept constantly up-to-date by continually adding new documents instead of waiting for all the relevant documents to be compiled after the end of the production period.
Here, the archive had already laid the foundations for the subsequently established practice of managing the collections on the basis of relevance and affinity: according to the key topic addressed in the individual files. The documents that were constantly being added to the archive were therefore assigned to the material according to topic. The corporate archive deviates from this principle primarily in the case of complete archived material, such as material sourced from individuals. One prime example is the Béla Barényi collection: the pioneer of modern vehicle safety donated his private archive to the corporate archive in 1990. This archive alone contains some 200 folders on the history of passive and active safety in the passenger car.
There was, however, still a long way to go from those first few years after its foundation before the well-oiled machine of the modern-day archive was in place. In 1937 a great deal of work was done on honing the structure used to organise the archive. Wilhelm Kissel, who was appointed the Chairman of the Daimler-Benz AG Board of Management in October 1937, himself set out his requirements for the archive structure. Talking to Max Rauck, Kissel emphasised the need for „a structure based on years“, within which the documentation on each individual year should be structured according to various topics: annual reports, leading personalities, photographs, written material, brochures, sport and exhibitions. By December 1937, more than 600 collected volumes and printed matter had been added to the archive under this model.
From the outset, the staff in the corporate archive rose to the classic challenge of their profession: they had to identify with vision what was ready for and worthy of inclusion in the archive. The benchmark is not solely how important documents are at present – the archivists also constantly have to try to judge what the documentation might mean from the perspective of future generations.
Collecting material without any selection process was not an option – if only due to space constraints. In the winter of 1937 the Archive reported to Wilhelm Kissel, who had now been appointed Chairman of the Board of Management, that „the space available […][had been] entirely filled and it [would be] […] highly desirable and necessary for additional rooms to be made available for the historical central archive in order to process and house the material that continues to be generated“.
As such, the contents and size of the archive grew, housed at the time in the so-called canteen building on the plant site in Untertürkheim. The storage facilities were also changed: in addition to the wooden cupboards used in the first few years, in 1939 an order was placed with August Blödner, Spezialfabrik für Stahlmöbel und Eisenbau (a company specialising in steel furniture and ironwork) based in Gotha for „double-walled, two-door fireproof cupboards“. As early as August 1935, Kissel had suggested this type of storage for irreplaceable documentary material. However, there was still not enough space to evaluate and archive all the collated material at a central location. Hence, the Archive proposed erecting a new building, with modern equipment throughout, including air conditioning, carbon dioxide extinguishing system and metallic archiving system.
Moved to the hen house
Yet a totally different fate would befall the archived materials in the Second World War. Instead of being relocated to a new building, they were moved from the Untertürkheim plant. On 8 April 1941 a note stated that, among other things, the most important documents from the founding years had been stored in a bank safe.
During the war a large part of the archive was moved to Kühbach (Aichach-Friedberg district) in Bavaria. Under the code name „hen house“, Daimler-Benz AG stored „various records, books, copies of drawings“ as well as a variety of equipment in the cellar of the brewery on the Baron von Beck estate. Following the end of the war, the US Third Army, in whose area of responsibility the archive was being stored, was hesitant to allow the material to be taken away. The company initially rented external archive premises in Esslingen while the Untertürkheim plant was being reconstructed and civilian series production was being slowly ramped up. It was only in 1948 that the archive returned to the Untertürkheim site.
The period of the German economic miracle is not only an era of change and productivity for automobile production but also for the archive: in 1954 it became an independent department, reporting directly to the Board of Management department „Central Management“. This period also gave rise to numerous important publications on the history of Daimler-Benz AG’s products and the company itself, as well as on the history of the automobile and technology in general.
Archive and museum under a single roof
1957 saw the archive and museum being combined, bringing together the product and document collections, and generating numerous synergies in the process. This structure has been retained to the present day. The merger was reflected particularly in the inauguration of the Mercedes-Benz Museum on the plant site, with the new building being completed in 1960 and inaugurated in 1961: the archive was housed in the same building. When the new Mercedes-Benz Museum was opened off the plant site at Mercedes-Benz World in 2006, the archive moved into the building directly opposite the plant gates located on the Cannstatt side.
The archive’s organisational structure also changed over the years. The current system was set up in 1973: at the time, the decision was taken to „extend the document base to the non-technical area“, to split up the hitherto „mainly technically oriented“ historical archive into the technical archive and corporate archive. The archives still retain the same structure even today: apart from the corporate archive and the product archive, there is the media archive, archive library and the vehicle collection.
Economic and social history
The corporate archive preserves documents and artefacts relating to individuals and the company’s history. These include sources on the company founders, the complete company history and the development of the plants, as well as the Board members with reports on Board of Management and Supervisory Board meetings. Documents detailing sales of in-house products and on investments form part of the corporate archive along with press kits and a art collection including rare posters, original graphics and designs for advertising motifs as well as the advertising collection including advertisements dating back to 1885. The racing archive documents the motorsport involvement of Daimler and the predecessor companies from the first race in 1894, through the Silver Arrows era in the 1930s and 1950s to the present-day competitors. And the archived material also includes documents on the social history as well as artefacts ranging from coins, medals and trophies through to promotional items.
Technical expertise in its historical context
The product archive documents the history of passenger cars and commercial vehicles since the invention of the automobile by Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler. The archived materials include brochures, price lists, owner’s manuals, workshop and parts literature along with technical reports and design drawings. The original vehicle records, order books and engine books, which document the as-delivered condition of virtually all passenger cars ever built by the Daimler, Mercedes and Mercedes-Benz brands provide a treasure trove of information. Added to which are vehicle data cards for over 10 million passenger cars from the period 1945 to 1985.
These documents also constitute important sources for Mercedes-Benz Classic that allow the manufacturer to produce expert reports: based on this historical information and a technical diagnosis, the experts from Mercedes-Benz Classic can verify and document the originality of valuable Mercedes-Benz vehicles.
Open to new media
The media archive includes some three million photographs from the early years of automotive construction to the present day. This includes almost 300,000 historical black-and-white negatives, almost a third of which are large-format glass negatives. The media archive also features some 4000 films along with the audio collection comprising original interviews with contemporary witnesses and other contributions to oral history.
The media are accessible in an extensive database, which facilitates rapid search and distribution. The corporate archive also embraced the digital future early on: the data in the archives has been processed electronically since the early 1990s. In 2000, the M@RS database (Multimedia, Archive and Research System) also went live on the internet. M@RS is not an island solution limited to the archives but was always designed from the outset as a cross-departmental solution that could be deployed throughout the Group to provide all types of media and documents.
Meanwhile M@RS is being used in the Group by more than 20 other clients, with data constantly being added; for the archives this integrated solution has the major advantage of providing up-to-date data such as product and marketing information early on to ensure long-term availability.
This willingness to embrace new media is nothing new: back in April 1938, Max Rauck noted: „We have to set up a sound archive. [… W[e] already have various wax discs, f[or] e[xample] „Dr Nibel talks about the racing car“ etc. You could also find stories from old Daimler and Benz veterans on wax discs.“ In the same year, Rauck also suggested they should also archive historical film material. As such, the archive was consistently geared to a variety of media from the moment it was founded.
Literature on vehicle technology and the automotive industry
The archive library is a large reference library that specialises in automotive technology and the automotive industry. In addition to the numerous works on the Mercedes-Benz brand as well as on Daimler AG and its predecessor companies, there are also extensive archives on general automotive and technology history. The almost complete edition of the „Allgemeine Automobil-Zeitung“, a car magazine first published in 1900, is a remarkable rarity on the international library scene. The library also holds other publications from the early days of the automobile. In total, the library contains some 10,000 books, and 220 magazines, of which 90 are current titles. The library’s collections also include numerous books published by the Archive itself. This publication work on brand-specific topics as well as on basic issues relating to automobile history boasts a long tradition in the archive.
History on wheels
The Mercedes-Benz Classic vehicle collection forms the basis for all automotive activities linked to the unique tradition of Mercedes-Benz.
A company-owned vehicle collection has been documented in the archives since 1921. The collection consists of more than 900 vehicles, some 160 of which are on display as exhibits in the Mercedes-Benz Museum. Other vehicles are on show at exhibitions and motor shows, or used at new vehicle presentations, at classic car events and rallies. A binding collection concept governs the way in which the vehicle collection is expanded and managed. In this way, the brand’s groundbreaking products are collected according to set criteria and preserved for posterity – according to precisely the same discerning requirements that the historical archive has fulfilled since 1936.
Source: Daimler AG