MMIM Hall of Fame
Mdme. Louise Sarazin-Levassor.

   The saying is something like “Behind every good man there is a good woman”, and this seems to be particularly true when it comes to the pioneers of the Motor Car. Benz would have happily put his car in the barn as a job well done if his wife Bertha hadn’t driven that famous 130 mile round trip publicity stunt; and the French might not have forged the first cogs in the fledgling motor industry had a woman not ensured they had Germans engine from Daimler.

   Described as “an energetic businesswoman”, “an enterprising spirit” and sometimes even as “The Mother of the Motor Car”, it was Louise Sarazin who really put the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft on to the right track towards financial stability and world fame.

   Louise Cayrol was born to Antoine Cayrol and Jeanne Cayrol (nee Bonnafous) on the 6th of November 1847. They were residents of Foix, in the south west department of Ariège, Midi-Pyrenees, France. Little is apparent about the early life of Louise or her sister Anne Cayrol. Her story really comes to life with the marriage of Louise Cayrol to Auguste Edouard Sarazin in March 1870.  The 30-year-old Sarazin was Belgian by birth, from Liège, Brabant Wallon, Belgique, and, although forging a career in Law in Paris, was also interested in engineering and industry. He was certainly shrewd enough to purchase the Daimler patents for France and Belgium and became the intermediary between Daimler and the French engineers Panhard and Levassor having earlier been the French representative of the German company Gasmotorenfabrik Otto & Langen. 

   Madame Louise Sarazin must have settled to life as a wife and the couple had three children. The first was their daughter Jeanne Sarazin born in Paris in 1878. Their first son Auguste Henri was born in the Asnières-sur-Seine suburb of Paris in 1880, on the 25th of July that year.

   In 1886 Édouard Sarazin  took a decision that would have repercussions far beyond anything he might have dreamed of. Sarazin had become friends with Gottlieb Daimler (and Wilhelm Maybach) while Daimler worked at Gasmotoren-Fabrik Deutz AG. Sarazin was known to visit Daimler in Cannstatt and followed Daimler and Maybach’s experiments developing high rev’ing internal combustion engines with great interest. Seeing the potential of these engines Sarazin obtained the conditional rights to market all Daimler products in France, not with a signed contract, as you might expect of the Parisian lawyer, but with a handshake.

   Given Benz and Daimler’s pioneering motor vehicles Germany might be considered the birth place of the motor car, but it is France that made turned it all into a real manufacturing industry. And, it was Édouard Sarazin who registered Daimler’s engine design in France on the 27th of December, 1886..

    For Louise Sarazin 1887 was largely spent taking care of the couple’s third child, a second son, René, born on the 21st of February 1887, again in Paris. For Édouard Sarazin the year revolver around his law work and talks he had initiated with a friend from their days studying at L’Ecole Centrale; businessman Émile Levassor, and his business partner René Panhard.

   René Panhard had a machine workshop making woodworking tools and Sarazin thought this would be a good opportunity for both parties. Fulfilling an ambassadorial role for Gottlieb Daimler and exploiting his own patent rights on Daimler’s products, Sarazin’s idea was that Panhard et Levassor should manufacture Daimler engines in France and eventually build motor cars too.

   Unfortunately for Louise and Édouard other events were to over shadow the negotiations before they were complete. Édouard became gravely ill with a kidney disease and in a matter of weeks was dying. Aged just 47 years old Édouard Sarazin was too ill to conclude the negotiations with Panhard et Levassor but on his death bed charged his wife with doing so. He specifically told her to maintain the business relationship with Gottlieb Daimler and to continue his work advocating Daimler's invention. Sarazin’s words went something like this :-

“In your own interests, and for the good of our children, I recommend that you maintain the business connection with Daimler. Don’t let the relationship come to an end. Continue to work with him, and with Panhard and Levassor. Only together can you get the best results from the Daimler patents. His invention is entirely trustworthy, and it will have a future, the magnitude of which we cannot begin to imagine today.”

   Édouard died on the 24th of December, 1887. Ending a year that started so full of optimism with tears and distress. In a strange twist of fate Édouard’s reported place of death, 69 avenue de la Grande Armée (just along from the “Arc du Triomphe”), in Paris, is now a Peugeot dealership. Peugeot is one of the world’s oldest car producers and it’s 1890 models were powered by Panhard built Daimler engines.

    Following the sudden death of her husband Louise did indeed maintain contact with Gottlieb Daimler. Following Édouard’s advice Louise Sarazin wrote to Daimler in early 1887. She wrote :- 

“You will now be looking for a new representative for France,” …… “since I am familiar with all the negotiations that have taken place up to now, and am fully informed about all the details up to the present day, I am completely at your service to help with your work until you find a suitable replacement for my husband.”

  She went on to commission Panhard et Levassor to fabricate Daimler engines in accordance with the terms Édouard had been negotiating with them. 

   A document dating back to that time confirms how sensitively Gottlieb Daimler conducted his affairs with Louise Sarazin, despite large sums of money involved. On 4th January 1888 he wrote a letter to Louise Sarazin, in which the following quote can be found :-

“As regards business matters, I am in no hurry to look for a new representative for Paris, and am glad to hear that you are fully acquainted with our business affairs and wish to assist me. I gratefully accept your offer. In addition, I perceive that you believe in my engine, just as Monsieur Sarazin did, and I can well understand that you would not like to see the fruits of your husband’s work pass into other hands. With these few lines, I wish to say that I hope to act as your husband would have wanted when I assure you that you will remain involved in the business, even if I am unable to say exactly how. At any rate, I shall not undertake anything in the near future without first seeking your advice.”

   In February 1888 Louise went to visit Daimler in Canstatt. At this time Daimler himself was already in ill health and often overcome with paralysing tiredness neither party would ever forget the critical hour she spent face to face. Gottlieb Daimler sat quietly opposite Louise and, although listening, seemed removed. Perhaps pondering whether it was a good idea to appoint this young, optimistic woman. Daimler was so enchanted by Mrs Sarazin’s charm and cleverness that he appointed the widow to be his representative and licensee for France and Belgium. She was equally impressed with Daimler’s demonstrations of his inventions and an agreement was reached with a handshake; and the promise that Louise need not pay any licence fee until she began to make a profit. According to the agreement Daimler was to receive 12% of the purchase price for each unit sold, Daimler’s only condition was that all the items must be labelled as “Daimler”.

   When Louise left Canstatt she had with her a single cylinder Daimler engine in her hand luggage. This in order to show her backers in France and provide Panhard et Levassor with a real item to and in the interpretation of drawings. However, on her return journey a problem arose at the border, which almost led to the engine being confiscated. Fortunately, a French minister in the same train compartment who had been complimentary to Mrs. Sarazin earlier in the journey managed to help her out of the scrape.

   When Louise Sarazin put her plans to her late husband’s friend, Émile Levassor, he was rather uncertain. In time Louise’s enthusiasm transferred to Levassor and in October 1888 Louise Sarazin and Emile Levassor travelled together to visit Gottlieb Daimler. Levassor and Daimler were soon getting on well and in time their friendship would grow. The business agreement was based on the idea that Panhard et Levassor would make 30 engines a year, Louise Sarazin would charge Panhard & Levassor for 20% of the purchase price for each item for the rights, passed the 12% to Daimler and leave herself an 8% cut of the purchase price.

   This is how it came to pass that off the back of a lady the foundations were laid for the entire French motor industry, and that of most of the world.

   Between May and October 1889, the World Exposition was held in Paris. A Daimler car and engines were exhibited causing a great deal of interest from the public and from other business professionals. Bicycle manufacturers Peugeot were just one of the companies that saw the promise of the motor car and approached Daimler for the rights to his designs. Gottlieb Daimler maintained his promises with his existing business partners and on the 1st of November 1889, sent Louise a written confirmation that only she could exploit all French and Belgian patents, on condition that they bear the Daimler name. As mentioned earlier Peugeot used Panhard et Levassor built Daimler engines in their early cars. It soon became clear to Panhard et Levassor that they had made the right decision in working with the Daimler product. In truth, it was Emile Levassor who moved quickly to push Panhard into making cars and the first cars from Panhard et Levassor, and from Peugeot, rolled along the French roads with Daimler motors. The Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft was firmly established.

   With regular meetings between Louise Sarazin and Emile Levassor taking it was perhaps inevitable that romance should blossom. On the 17th May 1890 Louise Sarazin married her business partner, Émile Constans Levassor, in the seaside town of Étretat, Normandy, and became.…Mrs. Louise Sarazin-Levassor.

   Émile Levassor was born on the 21st of January 1843, in Marolles-en-Hurepoix, Île-de-France, Paris. He was acknowledged as, Ingénieur des Arts et Manufactures and granted the honour of Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur. His belief in the motor car was constantly growing and it was foresight that led him to think that the high speed of the Daimler engine was best demonstrated but running the cars in trials and races. 

   In 1891 sales of the Daimler engine finally met the agreed 30 engines per year target as more and more motor cars were purchased by the rich and famous, initially as novelty items but increasingly for fun and competition. The acceptance of, and enthusiasm for, the motorcar was much greater in France than in Germany. In the July of 1894 the Paris-Rouen trial was held and out of a starting field of 21 vehicles 15 completed the course and of them nine were powered by Panhard et Levassor built Daimler engines.  More races followed including the 1895 Paris-Bordeaux-Paris event in which Émile was first to finish singlehandedly driving a Panhard et Levassor car. A legendary story often told and immortalised by a famous statue to Levassor in Paris.

  While everything must have looked on the up and up for the Sarazin-Levassor family in 1896 and Louise was able to step back from the limelight as her Husband pushed the cause of motoring and the Daimler engines. But a double tragedy was to hit Louise that year. Firstly, her daughter Jeanne Sarazin died, she was just 18 years of age. Then in September, while participating in the Paris–Marseille–Paris race, Emile Levassor crashed near Avignon and was thrown from his car. He suffered serious injuries. His recovery was faltering and uncertain and six months later  Émile Levassor  died on the 14th of April 1897. He was 54.

   From this time on the story of Louise Sarazin-Levassor goes quiet, presumably the business side of life ticked along and she spent her time as ladies often do. She continued to live in Paris until she passed away on the 16th of Octoober 1916 at the age of 68 years. Her place of death being recarded as in the 16th Paris Arrondissements, Île-de-France.


   Fatefully connected to Gotlieb Daimler and clearly significant in the history of the motorcar industry Louise Sarazin-Levassor knew triumph and tragedy in her life. Émile Levassor is known in France today as the ‘father of the automobile’, if this is considered true then Louise Sarazin-Levassor is surely the “Mother” of the motorcar.

   Her pioneering attitude towards business and industry were not only important for the automotive industry but pushed the boundaries of women’s rights and what was expected of a lady in the late 1800s.

   Over time the motor car and driving became thought of as a predominantly male area of influence and many of the ladies who were so important to the birth of the car and the motor industry were forgotten.

   In our opinion Édouard Sarazin, Émile Levassor and Gotlieb Daimler were very lucky to have been associated with this remarkable woman, and, I suppose, so are all those who have ever had to rely on their motor car since.