The lady with the
A sensational find sheds new light on Mercedes Jellinek,
who lent her name to the world-famous vehicle brand.
Seen for the first time:
Mercedes in a Mercedes.
Did Mercedes Jellinek actually drive this car? The photograph originates from around 1910 and shows the young lady at the wheel of a Grand Prix car built in 1906 – elegantly dressed with a hat and long skirt, looking shyly into the camera. This black-and-white photograph was a breath-taking find for Mercedes-Benz Classic: it is the only known photo showing the lady who lent her name to the famous vehicle brand sitting in a car named after her. Mercedes in a Mercedes, so to speak. Her father, the Austrian businessman Emil Jellinek, who sold numerous vehicles for Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) and made the brand well-known, had the idea of giving the name "Daimler-Mercedes" to a new model series.
The photos and personal documents that shed new light on Mercedes Jellinek, born 16 September 1889, come from the estate of her son. "Goose-bump material", as Jürgen E. Wittmann, head of the Mercedes-Benz Classic archives, says reverently.
Private moments in a life
about which little was known.
The treasures that Jellinek's son Hans-Peter Schlosser willed to his godchild include three photo albums with almost 300 photos in total. They show private moments in a life about which very little was previously known. Also included in the legacy are birth and marriage certificates, as well as a passport which tells us that Mercedes had chestnut-brown hair and green eyes – details that cannot be seen on the black-and-white photos, and are completely new at least to the public. Also that she was actually christened Mercedes Adrienne Ramona Manuela Jellinek. It was previously thought that Mercedes was just a nickname. Mercedes Jellinek, a lady who led the carefree life that was typical for a high-born daughter at that time, with luxury yachts and a house on the Côte d’Azur, but who also underwent upheavals and eventually sought her own way in life – a brave decision in that day and age – to find happiness.
Emil Jellinek was an
right from the start.
It all began with Emil Jellinek and his persistence, which helped the energetic diplomat and self-made man to establish himself in the international business world. When the automobile was invented by Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz in 1886, Jellinek was immediately an enthusiast for this new means of transport.
Having become aware of DMG through a newspaper advertisement, he travelled to Cannstatt and took delivery of his first Daimler car in October 1897. This was the start of a successful and varied business relationship between the restless businessman and the inventors of the automobile.
The future of the automobile
lies in speed and elegance.
Jellinek moved in the very highest social circles, promoting the new vehicles from Cannstatt. The Stuttgart-based inventor of the automobile and the man-of-the-world turned car salesman also clearly got on very well together personally, as Gottlieb Daimler invited Jellinek and his daughter Mercedes to his villa on several occasions. It was during these visits that Jellinek suggested to Daimler that he should enter his own cars in races and reliability trials under his own name, and convinced him and his chief designer Wilhelm Maybach that the future of the automobile lay in speed and elegance. At the same time he did not see speed as an incentive to be incautious, but rather as the real purpose of a motor vehicle: "If I cannot obtain more from an automobile than from a coach and horses, I might as well go back to horses!".
For the racing week in Nice in March 1899, Jellinek entered a Daimler "Phoenix" car using the pseudonym Monsieur "Mercedes" – a concealment that was clearly quite usual at the time.
Jellinek and Maybach invent the
automobile for the second time.
Emil Jellinek was not discouraged even by a number of setbacks, and convinced DMG to build a completely new vehicle with a completely new engine which was to be named the "Daimler-Mercedes". The first example, a Mercedes 35 HP, was delivered to Jellinek on 22 December 1900. This new model developed by Wilhelm Maybach caused a sensation as the new century dawned: it was the world's most modern car, and is also regarded as the first modern automobile. The Mercedes 35 HP was the first automobile to have an autonomous design that had nothing left in common with the previously prevalent coach form.
"We have entered
the Mercedes era".
At the race week in Nice at the end of March 1901, the cars bearing the name Mercedes showed what they were capable of: with four first places and five second places, the cars from Cannstatt were in a class of their own – whether in the long-distance run, the hill-race or the mile race. It was Paul Meyan, the General Secretary of the French Automobile Club, who coined the memorable statement: "We have entered the Mercedes era". The racing victories ensured extremely brisk sales, and the entire production was sold out up to 1904. The relationship between Jellinek and the management at Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft started to become strained, however. Cannstatt began to find the constant improvement suggestions of the practically-minded Jellinek increasingly tiresome, and in 1905 Jellinek even lost his sole selling rights for Daimler automobiles.
The treasures include photographs and personal documents of Mercedes Jellinek.
Mercedes marries in 1909 – but the happiness is
Privately Mercedes soon went her own way: the widowed Emil Jellinek remarried in 1899, and despite all the material comforts, his daughter felt increasingly neglected. Though remaining substantially unaware of her father's business problems, she resolved to search for her own happiness.
She found it with Baron Karl von Schlosser, whom she married in 1909. Very much to the satisfaction of her father, for whom the aristocratic title was a welcome addition. Mercedes took on the role of wife and mother, and the children Elfriede (born in 1912) and Hans-Peter (1916) seemed to make everything perfect.
She leaves the family
for an artist.
But the fortunes of the Jellinek family, which officially changed its name to "Jellinek-Mercedes" in 1903, had long since started to decline. In 1914 the First World War broke out, her father Emil was suspected of espionage by the French and eventually lost his entire property. When he died on 21 January 1918, his daughter was leading a sad life as the wife of a civil servant. Mercedes had always felt that she was an artist by vocation, something that was impossible given her family background, and in 1923 she took a courageous step and left her family for the consumptive and penniless sculptor Baron Rudolf Weigl, who succumbed to his condition shortly afterwards. Mercedes Freifrau von Weigl, née Jellinek-Mercedes, died in Vienna on 23 February 1929, not even having reached the age of 40.
Her feeling that life could have been different seems to be reflected in many of the photos that are now in the Mercedes-Benz Classic archives. They show a young woman who appears to be sad in some way, and sometimes preoccupied. At least we now know that she left the world more than just her famous name.