The Mercedes‑Benz brand was born under a lucky star: the current trademark comprising a three-pointed star in a laurel wreath was created in 1925 – in time for the merger between Daimler‑Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) and Benz & Cie., which together became Daimler-Benz AG, in summer 1926.
This event marked the birth of a new car brand – Mercedes-Benz – and with it a shared aspiration to uphold the tradition of the world’s two oldest car manufacturers and ensure a successful future for both. Innovation, performance, quality, awareness of tradition: the Mercedes-Benz trademark, one of the world’s most familiar and esteemed brand symbols, has stood for these and other values ever since.
The stories of the Mercedes star and the laurel wreath began – quite separately from one another – 17 years before the merger: on 6 August 1909, Benz & Cie. submitted an application to have the “Benz” lettering surrounded by a laurel wreath registered as a trademark to the Imperial Patent Office. This symbol was entered on the Register of Trademarks on 10 October 1910. Daimler‑Motoren‑Gesellschaft had already applied for legal protection for the Mercedes-Benz star on 24 June 1909. It was entered on the Register of Trademarks on 9 February 1911.
Looking back, the fact that both car makers registered their new trademarks in the summer of 1909 seems to mirror the events of 1886, since this was when Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz invented the car powered by the fast-running internal combustion engine – without even having any knowledge of one another. Some
23 years later, the two still competing companies pointed the way ahead with their new brand symbols, by immediately using them as a badge and signet on their respective vehicles.
Finally, on 18 February 1925, both brands registered their new shared logo – Daimler’s Mercedes star in Benz’s laurel wreath. This was a highly symbolic action in anticipation of the merger, which became effective on 28 June 1926. It was from these beginnings that the Mercedes-Benz trademark still used to this day developed.
At the start of the 20th century, trademarks and brand logos used by car firms developed into a dedicated system of symbols whose elements are in many cases still used to this day. This evolution had its roots in the formative years of the motor car: the oldest surviving trademark on a car body is the badge which Daimler affixed to its Riemenwagen in 1895. This vehicle has been part of the collection at the German Museum in Munich since 1906. A round coat of arms can be seen on the left of the car’s frame below the driver’s bench. Many coach builders at this time also signed their work here.
The Daimler logo of 1895 is an exceedingly complex affair with a filigree design: it shows the car silhouette with the lettering “Daimler Wagen” and a winged wheel as the then widely used (including on the railways) symbol for speed. The brand designation “Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft – Cannstatt – Württemberg” forms a circle around the central motif. Observers had to look carefully and closely at this early trademark, and it was perceived as a seal, a medal or a signature.
However, as cars became faster and the number of different brands multiplied at the start of the 20th century, it became all the more important to develop succinct and easily recognisable brand symbols.
Borrowing from city and family coats of arms
During the 20th century, many car manufacturers developed their trademarks based on the theory of colours and forms used in classical heraldry. By way of example, the stylised BMW propeller displays the colours of the state of Bavaria. Other brands borrowed symbols from state, city or family coats of arms: Alfa Romeo models boast Milan’s historic coat of arms, Büssing features the Braunschweig lion on the radiator and Ferrari combines the prancing horse from the noble Baracca family’s coat of arms with the yellow that appears on the town of Modena’s coat of arms. The brand symbol used by Porsche, the jumping horse taken from Stuttgart’s coat of arms, is similar to this Italian steed.
Other car manufacturers choose to highlight the aspect of technical innovation in their trademarks, a case in point being Citroën’s double chevron, which symbolises precise gearing. Stylised brand names or their initial letters likewise proved popular: current trademarks in use based on many historic examples include the two layered “M” letters for Maybach, the winged letter “B” for Bentley, the Ford logo, the Honda “H” and the double “R” of Rolls-Royce.
The graphic design of trademarks adorning cars not only brings to mind coats of arms. Their high-quality finish – metal relief, enamelled badge or free-standing emblem on the radiator – elucidates the meaning of the trademark. This fascination ranges from the symbols mounted on the cars themselves to accessories adorned with the trademark, allowing lovers of the brand to display their affinity for the company in question.
From Daimler to Mércèdes: first DMG trademarks
The brands that preceded Mercedes-Benz initially used trademarks that were based on the company names. By way of example, a DMG design for a trademark from 1897 shows an engine with the name “Daimler” arching above it and, hovering above this, the mythical phoenix. In addition to this, a car, a motorboat and an airship symbolise the use of the internal combustion engine on land, at sea and in the air.
In a similar vein, albeit with a far more sober design, there is a DMG advertisement from the 1890s, which the emerging company used to recruit representatives: the name “Daimler” hovers over the entire motif, the second “O” in the German word “Motoren” depicting the rising sun. Later, at the start of World War I, DMG advertised its trucks using the stylised signature of Gottlieb Daimler on a globe.
It is only logical that Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft applied to the Imperial Patent Office to have the valuable name of the brand’s founder registered as a trademark on 29 September 1899. The name was actually entered on the Trademark Register as early as 4 December of the same year. But the abbreviation DMG as a calligraphy was also registered as a trademark alongside the name Daimler.
Whether it was Daimler or DMG, the passenger cars made in Cannstatt soon had a new brand name in any case as, in April 1900, DMG reached an agreement with Emil Jellinek for the supply of innovative cars and engines. At the time, Jellinek was the largest dealer for DMG vehicles, with contacts in the very highest echelons of society. The pseudonym “Mércèdes”, under which Jellinek entered car races, was to become the brand name for these Daimler products. This name was inspired by the Austrian businessman’s daughter, Mercédès Jellinek, who was born in Vienna in 1889.
In December 1900, DMG delivered the first Mercedes 35 PS to Jellinek. Notching up a whole series of victories at the “Nice Speed Week” races in France, the car set standards for automotive development throughout Europe. “Nous sommes entrés dans l’ère Mercédès” (“We have entered the Mercedes era”), wrote Paul Meyan, General Secretary of the French Automobile Club in spring 1901, alluding to the dominance of the cars from Cannstatt.
Following on from this success, the new brand name quickly established itself in the public perception of Daimler passenger cars. On 23 June 1902, DMG applied to have the name “Mércèdes” registered as a trademark, the brand becoming protected by law on 26 September of the same year. And the arched “Mercedes” lettering became the new trademark on the radiators of the DMG passenger cars.
Gears and laurel wreaths: Benz & Cie. trademarks
Benz, too, advertised with a new, catchy signet at the start of the 20th century: in 1903, the lettering “Original BENZ” surrounded by a black ring gear was used as a trademark. The heavy technical overtones of the logo reflected expertise in the construction of engines and vehicles.
In 1909, the Mannheim-based company changed this trademark: the name Benz remained as a central element of the logo, but this time it was surrounded by a laurel wreath. This classic decoration awarded to winners of sporting competitions reflected the successes achieved by Benz & Cie. in car races during this period. Benz cars won the “Herkomer Konkurrenz” rally in 1907 and the 1st “Prinz-Heinrich-Fahrt” (Prince Heinrich Tour) as well as the race from St. Petersburg to Moscow in 1908 among other competitions. In addition to this, Benz achieved second and third places at the French Grand Prix of 1908 and broke three world records at the Daytona Beach meeting in 1909.
From 1909, this outstanding record of achievement was depicted in a confidently decorated trademark whose typographic content had now been reduced to four dynamically written letters: “Benz”. The name of the Mannheim-based brand was synonymous with originality in 1909, even without an express reference in the trademark.
The Mercedes star is born
Whereas Benz & Cie. ultimately only modified its trademark, DMG came up with an all-new logo for its “Mercedes” lettering in 1909: Alfred von Kaulla, Chairman of the Supervisory Board at Daimler‑Motoren-Gesellschaft, prompted a search for a catchy, easily recognisable symbol for the Mercedes-branded passenger cars.
The defining idea came from Paul and Adolf Daimler, the sons of the company founder who had died several years earlier in 1900: they adapted a three-pointed star for use as the brand logo. Their father, Gottlieb Daimler, had used a symbol like this one to mark the family’s house on a postcard depicting a view of the town of Deutz during his time as technical director of Gasmotorenfabrik Deutz. On 24 June, DMG applied for legal protection for a graphically designed version of the symbol.
At the same time, the Stuttgart company also applied for protection of a symbol comprising a four-pointed star. However, from 1910 onwards, only the three-pointed star was used as an emblem on the radiators of the Mercedes vehicles. It symbolises the use of Daimler engines on land, at sea and in the air. The four-pointed star became the emblem of Deutsche Aerospace AG (DASA) in the 1980s and is now the logo of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS).
In its formative years, the Mercedes star was used without a surrounding ring. Primarily it adorned the radiators, but it was also sometimes seen on the sides of the bonnets of Mercedes passenger cars, often still combined with the “Mercedes” lettering. One typical image comprises two Mercedes stars opposite one another on both sides of the characteristic V-shaped radiator.
Evolution of an emblem
This logo was designed with spatial perception in mind as early as 1909: the version of the drawn star with light and dark surfaces suggests a vivid form illuminated from the top left so as to create a fascinating interplay between light and shade. The three-dimensional star that DMG mounted on radiators and bonnets was also designed in this way.
The combination of the star with a wide ring and the “Mercedes” lettering in 1916 pre-empted elements of the Mercedes‑Benz emblem that appeared later. Four small stars in the round strip picked up the theme of the central symbol.
In May 1921, DMG then registered a vivid star in a ring as an emblem – expressly also for the use as a three-dimensional figure on the radiator. The corresponding trademark was registered on 2 August 1923. In this new position on the radiator cap, the upright, stand-alone star was far more easily recognisable than the reliefs on the radiator, most of which were made of the same metal as their bases. And although this design had a dignified look, it was difficult to recognise when the car flew past at high speed.
In 1925, the current versions of the star and laurel wreath were combined to create the new signet for the Mercedes-Benz brand. The applications to register the logo and the wordmark “Mercedes-Benz” as trademarks, on 18 February and 25 April 1925 respectively, pre-empted the merger between the two brands in 1926. The two trademarks were entered on the Register of Trademarks for the new company
Daimler-Benz AG on 3 September 1926 and 7 October 1927.
The outline of the new symbol picked up on the circular form of the two previous trademarks, with the central Mercedes star remaining the prominent feature. The accompanying “Mercedes” lettering moved from the lower edge of the ring to the top, with the word “Benz” appearing in its place. The two laurel branches from the Mannheim brand’s trademark replaced the small Mercedes stars. The branches have their roots right next to the letters “B” and “Z”, while the tips stretch out to the “M” and “S” in the name of the new sister brand.
This design of 1926 gave rise to a complex trademark that reflected the claims made about their products by the two carmakers and also alluded to some of the history behind the company and the brand. In 1933, Mercedes-Benz then registered a streamlined form of the emblem comprising a slim, black circlet in which the black silhouette of the Mercedes star could be seen.
Motoring under a lucky star
Whereas this graceful form of the trademark was used primarily for printed matter, it was the combination of a free-standing, vivid star in a circle – based on the example of the Mercedes trademark – and a trademark badge from 1925 below this which established itself on cars produced by the Mercedes-Benz brand.
Exceptions included the rear-engined 130 model, whose star lies flat on the panel of the aerodynamically designed front end instead of standing upright due to the absence of the radiator here. The front end of the “Silver Arrows” racing machines of the 1930s also sport this star.
However, it was the combination of radiator figure and badge that appeared on most Mercedes-Benz passenger car models. It conveyed a dual message: driving enjoyment on the one hand and safe motoring under the lucky Mercedes-Benz star on the other. This remained the case until well after World War II as most Mercedes-Benz models bore the star as a radiator figure with a badge showing the complete trademark with star, laurel wreath and lettering beneath it until into the 1990s. During the last decade of the 20th century, this badge gradually disappeared from the front end, however, leaving just the star. The trademark moved from the stand-alone badge to the base of the radiator emblem – as on the S-Class (model series W 140), for example.
The new face of Mercedes‑Benz
A further form of the front design with a centrally positioned star developed alongside the radiator emblem. Originally this form of the emblem was reserved for commercial vehicles – often in combination with the “Diesel” lettering. Unveiled in 1952, the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL race car (W 194 model series) delivered a brand-new take on this large Mercedes star: designed for competition, the car displayed an oversize symbol in the centre of the radiator air intake – providing a racy expression of the brand identity. This dynamic, powerful design also featured on the standard-production 300 SL and 190 SL sports cars, albeit in a refined form with horizontal chrome bar. As a consequence, the Mercedes-Benz range of passenger cars had a new face that stood for sporty exclusivity: the sports cars in the subsequent SL-Class line up have displayed this large, centrally positioned Mercedes star on the radiator grille since the W 198 and W 121 model series were introduced.
Other Mercedes-Benz model series have since adopted this same design. Customers ordering a C-Class (model series W 204) can even choose between the classic arrangement with a radiator figure (as standard or for the ELEGANCE line) or the more sporty centrally positioned star (for the AVANTGARDE line). The central star is currently specified as standard for the bodies of the A-, B-, CL-, CLC-, CLK-, CLS-, G-, GL-, GLK-, M-, R-, SL- and SLK-Class models – as well as for the Coupé version of the E-Class unveiled in 2009.
On many of the models, this radiator grille is combined with a badge bearing the classic Mercedes-Benz trademark from 1925. The small, elegant coat of arms has changed its position compared to the classic arrangement with the star as a radiator figure and is now mounted on the bonnet. However, the S-Class (W 221 model series), the E-Class Saloon and Estate models (W 212 model series), and the C-Class (W 204 model series) still feature the classic Mercedes star as a free-standing figure at their front ends – now once again in combination with the badge.
By way of contrast to its origins, this three-dimensional trademark has of course long ceased to be the crowning glory of the radiator cap. Similarly, the age of the star rigidly mounted on its base are also long gone: the modern-day Mercedes-Benz emblem retracts if any load is exerted on it. This innovative fastening technology is one of the measures the Stuttgart engineers implement to enhance pedestrian safety. Safety backed by the Mercedes star, as it were.
Source: Daimler AG