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Friday, 10 February 2012

Mercedes Typewriters

There is a connection between the Mercedes-Benz car company and the typewriter-making Mercedes Schreibmaschinen-und Büromaschinenfabrik in Zella-Mehlis, Thüringen, but it comes in a 20,000 marks 100-year-old trade-off over the name only.
In terms of the car, Mercédès, a Spanish girl’s name meaning “grace”, was the name of the then 10-year-old daughter (above, born 1889) of Austrian businessman, Emil Jellinek, who became involved with Gottlieb Daimler’s company, Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG), at the turn of the century. In 1902, Mercédès became a registered company trade name. Carl Benz’s company became attached to Daimler’s organisation after a syndicate was formed with Benz & Cie in 1924. Two years later the companies merged to form Daimler-Benz AG.
Meanwhile, Jellinek, who had changed his name to Jellinek-Mercedes, developed an interest in typewriters and had one Serge Kanschine of Nice, France, design for him a typewriter for cipher writing in 1911.
Perhaps by sheer coincidence, when Gustav Mez (above, born 1872) founded Mercedes Büromaschinen GmbH in Berlin on December 11, 1906, he adopted for his typewriters what had already become the popular brand name for a car.
The early car logo
The much later typewriter namebadge
It has been suggested Mez had a previous connection with Daimler. However, it would seem his background was in a major family sewing threads company, founded in Kandem in 1768 by Carl Christian Mez. Gustav Mez took over this company 1894, but with his typewriter interests taking precedence, he later sold it to his brother-in-law, Gustav Ziegebebin.
The typewriter company was established by Mez to make a machine which had been designed in 1904 by Franz Schüler and Alfred Mayer (it was patented by Schüler in the US in 1907). Schüler had previously worked for Heinrich Kleyer for 15 years and had helped develop Adler typewriters. Production of this Mercedes Modell 1 started in Berlin but, in need of a much larger workforce, the company in 1908 moved to the small town of Zella in the Black Forest of Thüringia.
No sooner had the company been founded than Daimler was on the case about the trade name, and started litigation. Since it was a relatively common christian name, it was difficult for the car company to stop Mez using it, so in 1913 the two companies reached a “delimitation” (or demarcation) agreement.
For a settlement figure of 20,000 marks, Mez was allowed by the courts to continue to use the name for typewriters, calculators and office equipment, provided he agreed never to use it if he ever made anything related to transport. Daimler retained the use for its cars, but agreed never to apply it if it ever ventured into typewriter manufacturing.
While Mez's Mercedes went on to make many fine typewriters, and produced in 1921 what in some quarters is regarded as the world’s first electric typewriter, the Elektra (designed by Carl Schlüns, above), its main thrust, and that of its mechanical engineers and designers, was towards calculators. It is best known for the Mercedes Euklid.
Mez, who had sold his typewriters in England as the Protos and in Argentina as the Cosmopolita, went to the US in 1924 to negotiate a partnership. And in December 1927 Underwood, given its own long-standing interest in combined typewriter-calculators, gained a majority holding in Mercedes. As its involvement in calculator development waned, however, Underwood’s connection with Mercedes was mainly concentrated on typewriters, while the Mercedes company itself survived as a calculator maker.
Underwood contributed portable typewriter designs to the Mercedes enterprise, and Mercedes’ first portable, the Prima of 1934, is unmistakeably an Underwood variation. Other notable Mercedes portables include the Superba, Selekta (aka Selecta) and the K45.

Georg Sommeregger Collection
In its earlier period, however, Mercedes had successfully relied on German designers, and had a sizeable team of leading mechanical engineers work for it. These included Schlüns, who designed the Mercedes Modell 2 of 1907, Christel Hamann, Hugo Ernst Kämmel, Robert Anschüts, Fritz Schmidt and Max Schulze. Mez himself also patented typewriter designs.
Schüler went to work for Wanderer, primarily on a noiseless typewriter (of which the Mercedes Superba is another type) while for Mercedes Kämmel picked up on Kanschine's idea for a code writing typewriter in 1931, just before the dawn of the Third Reich.
Mercedes had produced more than 300,000 typewriters even before Underwood took over this side of the business. It survived the Depression and two World Wars, but found itself in the hands of the East Germans and became part of Kombinat Robotron after World War II. The name stayed with Underwood, the factory went to Robotron (Optimas were made a little further north in Erfurt). The original Mercedes company moved into computer production under the brand name of Cellatron. This trade name is also linked with Daro, under which many Erika-Robotron typewriters were made. The end for Mercedes came in 1990.
Underwood's ongoing association with Mercedes can be seen in this 1966 Mercedes plastic portable typewriter, made under licence (to use the name) by Antares of Italy.
The design is obviously the same as the Antares Capri (see below), and much of the mechanism dates back further, to the Underwood 18 and the Antares Annabella and Domus.
The only sign of a country of origin on the Mercedes plastic portable can barely be made out: It says "Made in Italy, patent pending."
The mechanism for the ribbon colour selector, for platen turning and many other elements has been retained. Olivetti took over Underwood in 1959 and added Antares to its stable soon after. As part of the Underwood takeover, Olivetti inherited Mercedes. Ergo: Olivetti + Underwood + Antares = Mercedes. The equation can be seen here (even the vinyl case used for the Antares Capri and the Mercedes is the same as the one Olivetti used for the Lettera 32 and many of its other portables):

The Mercedes factory



Richard P said...

Interesting and helpful!

I have a Superba (the model with the noise-reducing typebar cover that gives it such a mysterious appearance). Nice typewriter.

Daimler actually produced its own typewriter, the DMG, in the '20s. There is a story about it in the Sept. 2011 issue of Historische Bürowelt and it's also pictured on p. 15 of the Dec. 2011 ETCetera.

Jellinek evidently loved his cute little daughter, and found a good way to immortalize her name.

That ad for the Mercedes Euklid, with the adding machine operator as Führer, is really something!

James Minzletron said...

I just bought a typewriter from a berlin market and I would love some help getting it working. it appeared to work fine and when I got it home, the slidey bit at the top has gone all the way to the right and I can't get it back across to central again.

Any ideas?

would love some help!

shordzi said...

Thanks for this interesting post, plus the nice photos. The first portables labelled "Mercedes" came on the market in July or August of 1931. They were made and supplied by Underwood. This arrangement lasted until June 1933, when Mercedes started its own portable typewriter production. This was an only slightly adapted (just visually rehashed) Underwood Junior Portable, sold as "Model 33". A year later & slightly improved, it became "Model 34" also called "Prima".

The Antares Mercedes is a rare bird, so is the Olivetti based Spanish Mercedes.

shordzi said...

Now the interesting thing is: while the first "Mercedes" portables were actually produced by Underwood, this situation was reversed in ca. 1934 when part of the Mercedes production was labelled and sold as "Deutsche Underwood". So these are Mercedes machines.

owlbjeni said...

4021I just acquired a Mercedes typewriter that my grandpa used in Germany after he was injured as a paratrooper and put on desk duty in WWII. It's been in my grandparent's attic all these years. It says Modell 33 on the front, all of the keys function well, but it's a little dirty, and the ribbon is in poor condition. Is there any hope of me getting it working, and how would I go about doing so? Is there anywhere I could take it? I also would like to have it valued, although I would never let it go. I'd just like to know its value. I'm thrilled with it. I have a few old typewriters in my collection already, but this is the oldest and dearest. I'd truly appreciate any information or advice you could give me regarding my typewriter.

Ciprian Popescu said...

Have you ever heard of a Mercedes 100 model? I have one with the newer logo and the number 100: "MERCEDES 100".

Guillermo Fernandez Boan said...
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Guillermo Fernandez Boan said...

I have a Mercedes Elektra. Have you any idea where to get the owner's manual. 90% is a machine like any other, but there is a 10% linked to electric operation I wish I could understand.

Guillermo Fernandez Boan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.