Many of the automobile companies we see on the road today played a role in the Great War, be it manufacturing aircraft engines, ambulances, or staff cars. In this post, we’ll take a look at a few of these companies and see where they were at the time of the war and where they are now.
Peugeot, a French firm, is one of the oldest mechanical companies in the world, and though their vehicles are not at all common here in the United States, they are everywhere in France. Peugeot’s contribution was a model of armored car based off of a commercial truck model of Peugeot. Armored cars, however, weren’t used all too often, at least on the Western Front, as a result of the trenches and rugged terrain of No Man’s Land.
Tatra, an Austro-Hungarian (now a Czech) company who, at the time of the war, had the name Nesselsdorfer Wagenbau-Fabriksgesellschaft. The first Tatra automobile, the Präsident, was released in 1897. During the war, Tatra serially produced a 4-tonne truck, the TL-4.
Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft, or the Daimler Motor Company, was founded in Germany Stuttgart in 1890 by Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach and became what is commonly known nowadays as Mercedes-Benz in 1926. From its founding, D-M-G made various engines and automobile models. The first automobile sale by D-M-G took place in 1892 and a motor car was sold to the sultan of Morocco. However, in 1894 D-M-G produced the “Phoenix” engine, which revolutionized the world of mechanical engines, and was the biggest product offered by D-M-G until 1902 when the Mercedes model of vehicle was released.
During the war, Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft produced various types of (mainly) aircraft engines for the German military as well as some models of aeroplanes, such as the Daimler G.I.
In 1909, co-founder of D-M-G Wilhlem Maybach left the company and founded Maybach Motorenbau as a subsidiary of Luftschiffbau Zeppelin (the company that produced the Zeppelin airships). During the way, Maybach Motorenbau produced many engines for heavy German aircraft and Zeppelin dirigibles.
Today, they exist as a sub-brand of Mercedes-Benz known as Mercedes-Maybach. The Mercedes-Maybach brand is known for their ultra-luxury vehicles.
The Renault company was founded in 1899 by French brothers Louis, Marcel, and Fernand Renault. Their first vehicle was sold in 1898, just a day before Christmas, but their first major sale was of AG1 models to the Société des Automobiles de Place in 1905. These vehicles were used by the French troops during the First Battle of the Marne where they became the famed Taxis of the Marne. Renault, even unto today, manufactures vehicles and engines; though during the war they produced engines, automobiles, and various ordnance for the French military.
A great video showing a Renault tank engine. This particular example has been restored by members of the Museum of the American. The Renault tank engine is of an inline-four configuration with a displacement of 274 cubic inches and produced 39hp.
The Italian automobile manufacturer Fiat was founded in Torino, Italy, in 1899; and produced their first vehicles in that same year. In 1908, Fiat vehicles became available for purchase in the United States, where they were a luxury automobile. Fiat, not soon after, began expanding into other industries, such as producing locomotives and electrical equipment. At the time of the war, Fiat produced not only automobiles and automobile parts for the Allied war effort, but also produced various guns and ordnance, namely the Fiat-Revelli Modello 1914 machine-gun.
Ford automobiles are icons of the early American motors era and still are quite recognizable as being an American automobile. The Ford motor company, founded in 1903, was able to introduce (relatively) cheap mass-produced vehicles to American consumers, causing a revolution in the auto-making industry. Back then, Ford made a handful of vehicle models, most-known of which are the Model Ts and Model As, which had different body styles to meet different needs (such as roadster and truck). During the war, Ford produced many vehicles to be used as ambulances and staff-cars, examples of which can still be found unto today.
Cadillac motor cars are the premier brand of automobile produced in the United States. Originally founded in 1902 and becoming a part of General Motors in 1909, Cadillacs were renowned for their luxury, durability, good craftsmanship. At the time of the war, a couple-thousand Cadillac touring vehicles were sent to France along with the A.E.F. to be used as staff cars or in similar roles. However, only one of these A.E.F. Cadillacs exist, which you can read about here on the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission website.
Rolls-Royce, an English company, since its founding in 1906, have been renowned for their excellent, prestigious luxury vehicles; even unto today, you can’t get much more luxurious or prestigious than a Rolls-Royce. During a war, however, the demand for ultra-luxury vehicles usually isn’t that high, so to stay in business, Rolls-Royce had to turn their production to wartime materials, such as ambulances, aircraft engines, and armored cars.
Bayerische Motoren Werke (which translates to Bavarian Motor Works), commonly known as B.M.W., was founded in 1916 in the German state of Bavaria. During the war, they produced aeroplane engines, only beginning to produce automobiles after the war.