The History of Trucking – celebrating 125 years of the World’s First Cargo Truck

Posted on 10-09-2021 by Suraj Dhirwani

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Brands: Mercedes Benz

On 18 August 1896 Gottlieb Daimler presented the very first motorised truck in the world. It was sold by Daimler to British Motor Syndicate, an automobile company in London. Exactly 125 years later a Mercedes-Benz Actros made the journey from Stuttgart to London carrying two historic trucks on-board, including a replica of the World’s First Cargo Truck.

Just like not all car enthusiasts are not necessarily bike aficionados, and just like all automobile are not mechanical engineering marvels. A lot of what we see in the modern car is trickled down technology from trucks. 

Cars transport people and then some, but trucks transport cargo that can range from livestock to essential supplies – delicate machinery to heavy artillery. The jobs that trucks do, under the conditions they operate, few cars ever match that.

Which is why mechanicals used in trucks, often make the basis of a study about what might work in cars.

Unlike the Chicken-egg story there’s no mystery to what came first, the truck or the car.

While the first car produced by German engineers Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach was in 1892 it took Gottlieb Daimler only 4 years to make the World’s first ever cargo truck in 1896. This company then went on to become Daimler Benz, which we all know for Mercedes cars.

This isn’t about the history of Mercedes Benz, that one is – here. This is about the legacy of Mercedes Benz Trucks and their 125 years of glorious history.

On 18 August 1896 Gottlieb Daimler presented the very first motorised truck in the world. It was sold by Daimler to British Motor Syndicate, an automobile company in London. 

The truck from 1896 was fitted with an engine, called "Phoenix", which was a four-horsepower-strong two-cylinder engine located at the rear, with a displacement of 1.06 litres, originating from a car. Daimler linked it to the rear axle by means of a belt. There were also springs which protected the sensitive engine from being shaken up. The vehicle rolled on hard iron wheels, after all.

Exactly 125 years later a semitrailer arrives in London from Stuttgart. This truck is the Mercedes-Benz Actros. The Actros has two historic trucks on-board, and so together with its own 25th anniversary, it is transporting the complete legacy from 275 years of commercial vehicle history. The journey was for a road show from Mercedes-Benz Trucks to mark the 125th anniversary of the truck and the Actros's own birthday. The included the accurate replica of the first truck made by Daimler in 1896, that looked like a carriage with an engine and without a drawbar. This replica of the first truck was built in 1990 and cost around 100,000 German Marks.

The second historic truck is an original vehicle that was once at home in the Transport Museum in Dresden. In 1898, Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach shifted the two-cylinder Phoenix engine, which had been located at the rear, to a position under the driver's seat for this six-hp vehicle, with the four-gear belt drive also being transferred forward. However, this solution still left a certain amount to be desired. In the same year, the truck was given the design features which still apply up to this day for modern trucks and were to pave the way to increased output and payload: the engine was then placed right at the front, in front of the front axle. It conveyed its ten horsepower via a four-gear belt drive and a front-to-rear longitudinal shaft and pinion to the internal ring gears on the rear wheels.

The Actros chosen to transport the historic trucks started its journey to London – just like its historic predecessor – from Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt.

The Mercedes-Benz truck division is known as Bharat Benz in India. It has picked up sales in hardcore mining areas of India due to their legendary reliability and sheer power.

While some of us may be aware of the fact that Mercedes Benz has been around since a while, reading about this history puts into perspective a massive number to that – 125 years.

For those who have read the History of Mercedes-Benz in our History of Brands section, would be familiar with multiple such innovations and pioneering efforts by the family behind the legendary brand.

The entire family was quite innovative and gutsy! Mrs. Bertha Benz was no less as she embarked on the World’s First Road Trip. Read more about that here.

We feel this is a very reminder of how far we have come in history and how relevant it is, even today, to have a ‘CAN-DO’ attitude and a desire to create and innovate!


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  1. No wonder the Mercedes Benz has such a reputation. Century plus experience. They changed the engine layout so many times they know exactly why what will work. Legends indeed.

  2. Wow, what a legendary history. I always thought the Volvo was a leader & pioneer in trucks & buses, never knew Mercedes Benz started trucking business. I am glad that whenever I visit here, I get to see something different.

    1. Thank you! Keeps the pressure on us to ensure we continue to deliver content that excites, entices, and engages! Guess we should add 'educates' to our list too! ;)

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