MMIM Hall of Fame

Siegfried Marcus

  Siegfried Samuel Liepmann Marcus was born on the 18th of September 1831, in the small town of Malchin, around 85 miles north of Berlin, Germany. Liepmann Marcus and Rosa Marcus where his parents and he is known to have had two brothers Eprahim and Matthias. Marcus claimed the nationality of the Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, a right he retained untill his death, despite having lived most of his life in Austria.

   His father was a merchant and on the board of the Malchin Jewish working community. Thus Marcus was able to have a good basic education and by the age of 12 he was already working toward a career in engineering having been apprenticed as a mechanic in the machine-shop of one ‘Mechanic Lilge’, in Hamburg. Records for this period are rather sketchy, but one thing is sure, in time Marcus was to become a most laudable engineer and manufacturer.

   At 17, having finished his apprenticeship, Marcus was employed by a Berlin engineering company of Siemens and Halske. They built telegraph equipment and Marcus reputedly became technical assistant to Werner von Siemens, founder of the German electrical industry and one of the foremost names in electrical engineering to this day. While with this company Marcus’ ideas for improving telegraphic relay systems earned him international acclaim. Sadly the historical sources for this claim no longer exist, virtually all of Berlin’s records having been destroyed, and even the archives of Siemens do not show the name of Siegfried Marcus anywhere. But it seems that Patent forms for his arc lamp do show a connection to Siemens company and he is known to have corresponded with Werner von Siemens throughtout his time in life.

   In 1852, aged just 21 years, Marcus moved to Vienna thereby eluding military service with the Prussian army. Whether he meant to do this is not clear, but he ended up working as a technician for Professor Ludwig, an outstanding physiologist, in the Physical Institute of the Medical School. In 1954 Marcus worked as a laboratory technician and mechanic at the workshop of Carl Eduard force, the Imperial mechanic at the Imperial Institute of Physics. Then from 1855 to 1856 he moved on to work at the Imperial Geological Institute.

   In 1856 Marcus formed his own company which he called Telegraphenbauanstalt. Business was conducted from a factory at 107 Mariahilferstraße producing equipment for the graphics industry (pantographs etc.), telegraphic apparatus and scientific instruments, electric detonators for military and commercial use, mechanical and electrical equipment, as well as lighting and lamp fittings for gas, alcohol and petrol lamps. Marcus worked out of this laboratory until 1890 when he moved to premisses near Mondscheingasse.

   Amongst Marcus’ many inventions is the:-

  1864 "Wiener Zünder" or Viennese Igniter. It is more popularly known as the T-handled plunger, a detonator used to ignite explosives in mining and other such industries

  1865 saw Marcus designs for a "thermopile" built and tested. Basically it was a machine to produce electricity from heat, although it proved to be uneconomical. This did not stop the Austrian Academy of Sciences purchasing the rights to the thermopile in 1865 at a cost of 2,500 florins, the equivalent of € 22,500 in the year 2000.

   Marcus also invented the Vaporisater, a sort of forerunner to the carburettor.  An Austria Patent (No. 5372/g), was issued on May 16th 1886, on the grounds that it was "an apparatus for the carbonization of atmospheric air".

   An electric Arc lamp of 1877 also gained a patent, it is possible this was intended for street lighting. In 1883 a patent for a low voltage ignition of the magneto type was given to Marcus in Germany.

   The money gained from these breakthroughs allowed Marcus to his keep his own research laboratory from the 1860s and he continued to operate his company until the end of his life. However Marcus’ rather small firm also meant he missed out on the bigger monetary gains as he needed a bigger company to make his second car and this lost him some of the rights he may well have been due. Marcus eventually held 131 patents in 15 countries, although none were ever for his automobiles. At the world fair of 1867, in Paris, Marcus won a silver medal, thought to be for a field telegraph.Marcus also had links with the Austrian Royal family. He is known to have installed an electric bell for the Empress and the Crown Prince of Austria made him a personal gift of cuff links. The Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I honoured Marcus with the Golden Cross of Merit.

   For Marcus the pursuit of self-propelled transportation was an engineering and intellectual challenge, rather than a commercial enterprise. While following his study of liquid fuels for lighting tasks he realised the explosive force created when sparks ignited an atomized petroleum-and-air mixture. Marcus saw that this power could be harnessed for mechanical work and created a single cylinder, two-cycle, internal combustion engine, following the Lenoir gas engine ideas. Having taken note of early steam vehicles it followed in Marcus’ thoughts that his smaller engine could be used to move vehicles which would themselves be much smaller than the huge steam vehicles of the day.

   Marcus’ first engine was started in 1864 and gained him his first Austrian privilege, or patent. This shows he was using gasoline as a fuel so when he put his engine onto a simple hand cart, around 1870, it is clear that Marcus made the first vehicle propelled by a gasoline internal combustion engine. This vehicle is now referred to as “the first Marcus Car”. However, this vehicle had no steering, brakes or seats; so calling it a car is a stretch of the imagination, but it did run by propelling itself. By sporting an internal combustion engine with a carburettor, and four wheels, it provided the basic DNA of gasoline-powered automobiles for more than 140 years.

   Clearly it was not a practical form of motor car in the manner which Benz’s ‘patent motor wagen’ would be some 15 years later. It had no gearing or clutch so the machine was started by spinning the rear wheels while a somewhat hefty helper held the rear end off the ground. Once it was ready to set off the machine was lowered to the floor and the historic 500ft journey was made. Despite having ‘driven’ it on MariahilferStrasse, outside his works, Marcus considered the machine not to be road-worthy and dismantled it. Without doubt Marcus had proven the concept of the gasoline powered combustion engine driven vehicle. 15 years before the better remembered efforts of Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler. More than 25 years before Henry Ford first drove his Quadricycle down Detroit’s Bagley Ave.

   Marcus was satisfied for the time being and as his main interests remained based around electricity his business took over his time. During this time Marcus refined the rheostat and improved his concepts on electrical sparking.

   Sometime around 1888-89 Marcus returned to his automotive experiments, no doubt having heard of other peoples experiments in the area, although probably rather less than we might think as sources of communication were not nearly as prolific as they are today. The famous “Second Marcus Car” was a vast improvement over his first rather crude effort. It incorporated a four-cycle, gasoline-powered engine with low voltage magneto electric ignition in conjunction with Marcus's novel “rotating brush carburettor”, that made the second car's design very innovative. Apparently this car could reach a top speed of 10 mph. It never went into production being described simply as "experimental", although it reportedly made a somewhat conspicuous appearance in the streets of Vienna during it’s demonstration run.

   Marcus “famous second car” was built, to Marcus’ specifications, by the Märky, Bromovsky & Schulz Company, who apparently retained the rights to the car. He had formed a co-operation agreement with the Moravian company, in 1887, to produce two stroke engines and later, after the Otto patent expired in 1886, four stroke engines of the Marcus type.

   Some people say this car was ready to drive in 1875 but there is no definitive proof, so it remains unclear as to whether the famous Second Marcus Car ever ran before 1890. If it did it probably didn’t run particularly well. An exact replica made of the surviving car was found to have barely enough horsepower to move under it’s own motive force. This and the later third, and possibly fourth, cars did have seats, steering, a clutch and brakes, features that simply hadn't been thought of when Marcus first put his engine on a cart.

   Sadly these cars didn’t survive but Marcus’ landmark second car survives to this day and is thought to be the oldest gasoline-powered internal combustion car on Earth. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers later named it an ‘Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark’.

   Marcus died on the 1st of July 1898 after suffering health problems for some time. He was buried at the Protestant Cemetery at Hütteldorf, in Vienna. He himself professed to be of the Lutheran religion rather than the Hebrew faith. He was widely acknowledged (and formally honoured as) the originator of the motorcar. For forty years the children of Austria were taught so in their schools.

   Then came the annexation of Austria, followed by the unification of Austria and Germany under Nazi rule in 1938. Marcus was of Jewish ancestry and it went against doctrine that a Jew could be the inventor of anything. The Nazi office of public enlightenment and propaganda ordered Marcus’ work to be destroyed, his name removed from textbooks (replaced by those of the German engineers Daimler and Benz), and his public memorials removed.

   The memorial statue of Marcus in the Resselpark, in front of the Vienna Technical University, was torn down and a memorial plaque on the engineering college’s wall ripped off. In fact the Nazis almost completely succeeded in writing Marcus out of history causing us great difficulties in providing exact dates for his key innovations.

   Fortunately for automotive history the second Marcus car had been part of a public exhibit about early motorcars in the 1898 industrial exhibition marking Emperor Franz Josef 1st of Austria’s “Jubiläums-Ausstellung”. It ended up being sold to the Austrian automobile club before being passed into the keeping of Vienna’s Technical Museum around 1938. The Museum relegated the Marcus car to a storage room where it was kept safe from the Nazis. After the war the car was returned to the Austrian Automobile Club and in 1950 underwent a major restoration in the hands of Alfred Buberl.

   At the same time Marcus’ remains were transferred to an "Honorary Tomb" in Vienna's Simmering Central Cemetery. The Memorials replaced and another memorial bust was erected at the mechanic’s institute. These days there are around half dozen memorials to Siegfried Marcus in and around Vienna, including a street in Vienna’s 14th district named after him. In Marcus hometown of Malchin, Germany, there is a museum with extensive displays about Marcus and a replica of the first Marcus motorcar.

   In the modern meaning of a motorcar Marcus first attempt isn’t really a car at all. Certainly not a practical or (fairly) reliable form of transport like the Benz three wheeled patent wagen or the Daimler autowagen, but Marcus was indeed the first person to put a gasoline engine on a four wheeled vehicle and he was an engineer and inventor far ahead of his time. He designed at least three progressively more sophisticated combustion-engine cars (and nine gasoline engines) over a 30 year span and many of his inventions, albeit substantially refined, are present on the cars of today.