From 1896 to the Present Day – Milestones in Truck History

Automobilausstellung in Paris

The truck is turning 120 this year. Its predecessors were created by Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler. There have been a number of stages of development from the first vehicles with box-type bodies to the networked trucks of today.

The first ever “delivery vehicle” no doubt drew stares as it rolled through the streets of Paris. It was hoped that the motorized transportation of goods would raise everyone’s standard of living – which indeed it did. Both Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler built the first ancestors of the modern truck in 1896. Demand was rather sluggish at first, but neither Daimler nor Benz ever doubted that motorized transportation would become widespread. After all, this way of delivering goods was faster and more efficient than the usual methods like horse carriage, ship, or rail.

In 1896, Carl Benz supplied a "delivery vehicle" to a department store in Paris. The vehicle had a payload of 300 kg and required an output of 5 hp to transport goods.


Until the two companies merged in 1926, Benz and Daimler also competed in the truck business and developed trucks with diesel engines independently of each other. The two brands conducted their first test drives under diesel power almost simultaneously in the summer of 1923. Following a slump in unit sales in 1929 on account of the Great Depression, the number of commercial vehicles operating in Germany rose in the run-up to the Second World War. Daimler-Benz AG achieved a breakthrough with the diesel engine in 1932 and a new truck portfolio that also included the L6500. The trademark had the word “diesel” standing out under the Mercedes star.

Crisis and Revival

After some time, the arduous process of rebuilding following the Second World War resulted in a burst of innovation that gathered pace in the 1960s in particular. Daimler-Benz expanded its range of vans in 1955 by adding the panel van, and again in 1967 with the “Düsseldorfer” large-capacity van. The company also incorporated renowned brands with long histories such as Krupp and Hanomag-Henschel. The 1970s were above all shaped by the “new generation” of heavy-duty trucks such as the Mercedes-Benz 16-tonner 1624. The “Düsseldorfer” developed to become the T2. At the end of the 1980s, the “new generation” became the “heavy-duty segment” which the Mercedes-Benz Actros took over from in 1996.

The Actros Turns 20

The one millionth Mercedes-Benz Actros – the flagship in The Mercedes-Benz Trucks product portfolio – was handed over as recently as November last year. A century passed between the first van in 1896, which delivered consumer goods to a department store, and a high-powered vehicle like the Actros which is also celebrating its 20-year anniversary in 2016.

Looking Ahead

Daimler Trucks is celebrating its 120th anniversary while also looking to the future with ambition. It will need to further reinforce its leading position in order to remain the foremost manufacturer of trucks in the world. The next major goal is the fully networked truck, with which Daimler is introducing a radical transformation in the world of transportation. In this way, the company is improving the sustainability, safety, and performance of the entire logistics network.

May 02, 2016
Catharina Kohnen