Daimler Motor Company, an American company founded in 1888 and not to be confused with the German Daimler Motor Company, Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft, was one of several enterprises other than piano making in which William Steinway engaged. "William Steinway . . . flirted with making automobiles and speedboats in the 1890s . . . ," asserts James Barron. (1, p.132) William did more than flirt, however, and pursued the manufacture of Daimler engines in the United States and their multiple potential uses until his death in 1896.(7)
In 1886, William began correspondence with Gottlieb Daimler, a German inventor and co-developer of a small internal combustion engine that ran on liquid petroleum fuel.(3, p. 320) On August 22, 1888, five days after William had taken rides in a railcar and a boat that Daimler had fitted with his engine, William and Daimler "have a long talk." (Diary, 1888-08-22) Events moved quickly and in September and October, Daimler Motor Company, headquartered in Long Island, New York, was founded and given the American rights to Daimler's patents.(2)(5)(7) The firm was legally established on January 26, 1889, with a an authorized capital of $200,000.(7) William recorded the first board of directors' meeting for Daimler Motor Company—a firm in which William invested a reported $181,800 (3, p. 415) —was held on February 2, 1889. (Diary, 1889-02-02) (3, p. 321) Although at first the company imported Daimler motors from Germany, soon production of motors for the company "was taken over by National Machine Company in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1891, and it was this company which engaged in license production of America's first operational engine based on Gottlieb Daimler's original design drawings." (2) Later William suggested that manufacturing be done near the Steinway plant in Long Island.(7) By early 1892 William wrote in his diary that the "Daimler Motor Comp New Building all finished" (Diary, 1892-01-30) so it is possible that the production of Daimler motors in Steinway Village near the Steinway & Sons factory began around this time. The Daimler factory was enlarged in 1895.(5) (Diary, 1895-01-13) The gas and petroleum engines produced were used primarily for stationary machines and boats, although William did discuss experiments on "Wagonettes" with Daimler and Kubler.(Diary,1893-10-18)(2).
Among the applications William saw for Daimler motors of various sizes were small dynamos, cream separators, sewing machines, pumps, ventilating fans, blowers, light wood-working machinery, printing presses, elevators, boats, tramways, shoemaking machinery.(3, pp. 321-22) And by late 1893 a Daimler motor carriage, imported from Germany, was running up and down the streets of Steinway Village in Astoria on Long Island, "making it one of the pioneer gasoline vehicles to run on American roads . . . ." (3, p. 323). When The New York Times published a long article on William's many activities in July of 1896, it listed the officers of Daimler Motor Company as William Steinway, president, Frederick Kübler, vice president, Louis von Bernuth, treasurer, and Herman Kleber, secretary.(5)
The Daimler Motor Co. concentrated on building a variety of motors but not motorized vehicles. However, the company produced motorized boats, incorporating the knowledge of and availability of wood from the piano manufacturing activities of Steinway & Sons.(6) William Steinway had a Daimler motor boat, named Gemini.
The overwhelming majority of William's Diary entries relating to Daimler Motor Company are matter-of-fact: For example, "Hold first Meetings of Daimler Motor Comp and Astoria Homestead Company." (Diary, 1889-02-02) "Daimler Motor Comp. getting gradually into shape." (Diary, 1889-11-30) "Daimler Motor nearly ready to run." (Diary, 1891-04-18) And "In evg F. Kübler calls talks about purchasing, with G. Daimler, the assets of Daimler Motor Comp." (Diary, 1894-05-17)
Other diary entries reflect William's enthusiasm for the venture. For example, William wrote in the summer of 1895 that he has just toured Daimler Motor Company's "New Building" in Astoria—"all finished and looks splendid." (Diary, 1895-08-17)
More than half a dozen Diary entries reflect personal displeasure with the company, nevertheless. For example, as early as November 17, 1893, William reported, "Kübler sees me in eve'g about selling out Daimler Motor Co. of which Co. I am disgusted." (Diary, 1893-11-17) A year later, William states, "See Kübler in forenoon at my house, am horrified to find that the unfortunate Daimler Comp. has again lost some $18.000. since January 1st as I predicted." (Diary, 1894-11-04 ) And in marked contrast to several 1895 Diary entries relating improving business at Daimler Motor Company, on March 18, 1896, William cursed the company "for its draining me of money +resolve to stop it." (Diary, 1896-03-18) Three days later, on March 21, 1896, William reported having "a long and earnest consultation on the Daimler Motor Co. constantly working with a heavy loss." (Diary, 1896-03-21) Some of William's entries reflected impatience with Daimler, as he referred to a letter from Daimler as "ridiculous, as before."(Diary, 1894-01-29)
Following William's death in November 1896, appraisers declared the company "worthless." Daimler Motor Company, Fostle contends, "closed entirely when denied William's cash infusions. . . ." (3, p.415)
In August 1898, less than two years after William's death, a new firm called The Daimler Manufacturing Company was formed; its principal was Frederick Kübler, who had been general manager of William's Daimler Motor Company and a frequent liaison between William and Gottlieb Daimler. (3, p. 415) This firm obtained the assets and old physical plant of the Daimler Motor Co.(6)(3, p. 415). It built the "first American Mercedes" and continued to produce cars until 1913, when fire significantly destroyed the factory.(7)
1. Barron, James. Piano: The Making of a Steinway Concert Grand. New York: Times Books, 2006, p. 132.
2. "A Car for America," available from Daimler Global Media site. http://media.daimler.com
3. Fostle, D.W. The Steinway Saga: An American Dynasty. New York: Scribner, 1995.
4. Lieberman, Richard K. Steinway & Sons. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995, pp. 116-17.
5. "North Beach, Steinway, Long Island: Motor Without Steam," The New York Times, July 12, 1896, p. 25.
6. Salemi, Michael. "The Nearly Forgotten Story of the Mercedes from Long Island." The Star, January-February, 2011, p. 44.
7. Wilkins, Mira. "Crosscurrents: American Investments in Europe, European Investments in the United States." pp.25-26/ www.h-net.org