The Daimler Archives – History Preserved

Assess and Preserve

The archive’s organisational plan from the same year proved visionary: the aim was to collect a wide range of documents, with a minimum time lag between origination of the documents and collection. In this way, the collected material on a certain vehicle model, for instance, was kept constantly up-to-date by continually adding new documents instead of waiting for all the relevant documents to be compiled after the end of the production period.

Here, the archive had already laid the foundations for the subsequently established practice of managing the collections on the basis of relevance and affinity: according to the key topic addressed in the individual files. The documents that were constantly being added to the archive were therefore assigned to the material according to topic. The corporate archive deviates from this principle primarily in the case of complete archived material, such as material sourced from individuals. One prime example is the Béla Barényi collection: the pioneer of modern vehicle safety donated his private archive to the corporate archive in 1990. This archive alone contains some 200 folders on the history of passive and active safety in the passenger car.

There was, however, still a long way to go from those first few years after its foundation before the well-oiled machine of the modern-day archive was in place. In 1937 a great deal of work was done on honing the structure used to organise the archive. Wilhelm Kissel, who was appointed the Chairman of the Daimler-Benz AG Board of Management in October 1937, himself set out his requirements for the archive structure. Talking to Max Rauck, Kissel emphasised the need for “a structure based on years”, within which the documentation on each individual year should be structured according to various topics: annual reports, leading personalities, photographs, written material, brochures, sport and exhibitions. By December 1937, more than 600 collected volumes and printed matter had been added to the archive under this model.

From the outset, the staff in the corporate archive rose to the classic challenge of their profession: they had to identify with vision what was ready for and worthy of inclusion in the archive. The benchmark is not solely how important documents are at present – the archivists also constantly have to try to judge what the documentation might mean from the perspective of future generations.

Vehicle birth certificates: the passenger car orders are documented in these Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft records
Vehicle birth certificates: the passenger car orders are documented in these Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft records
Memory of products, ideas and innovations: the technical archive
Memory of products, ideas and innovations: the technical archive
Mercedes-Benz History of orders
History of orders: the Daimler corporate archive also includes these historical order books

Collecting material without any selection process was not an option – if only due to space constraints. In the winter of 1937 the Archive reported to Wilhelm Kissel, who had now been appointed Chairman of the Board of Management, that “the space available […][had been] entirely filled and it [would be] […] highly desirable and necessary for additional rooms to be made available for the historical central archive in order to process and house the material that continues to be generated.”

As such, the contents and size of the archive grew, housed at the time in the so-called canteen building on the plant site in Untertürkheim. The storage facilities were also changed: in addition to the wooden cupboards used in the first few years, in 1939 an order was placed with August Blödner, Spezialfabrik für Stahlmöbel und Eisenbau (a company specialising in steel furniture and ironwork) based in Gotha for “double-walled, two-door fireproof cupboards”. As early as August 1935, Kissel had suggested this type of storage for irreplaceable documentary material. However, there was still not enough space to evaluate and archive all the collated material at a central location. Hence, the Archive proposed erecting a new building, with modern equipment throughout, including air conditioning, carbon dioxide extinguishing system and metallic archiving system.

Automotive history in detail: this collection of seat-cover material samples forms part of the archived materials
Automotive history in detail: this collection of seat-cover material samples forms part of the archived materials
Memory of products: the archive collection also includes sales brochures; the selection shown spans five decades
Memory of products: the archive collection also includes sales brochures; the selection shown spans five decades

Moved to the Hen House

Yet a totally different fate would befall the archived materials in the Second World War. Instead of being relocated to a new building, they were moved from the Untertürkheim plant. On 8 April 1941 a note stated that, among other things, the most important documents from the founding years had been stored in a bank safe.

During the war a large part of the archive was moved to Kühbach (Aichach-Friedberg district) in Bavaria. Under the code name “hen house”, Daimler-Benz AG stored “various records, books, copies of drawings” as well as a variety of equipment in the cellar of the brewery on the Baron von Beck estate. Following the end of the war, the US Third Army, in whose area of responsibility the archive was being stored, was hesitant to allow the material to be taken away. The company initially rented external archive premises in Esslingen while the Untertürkheim plant was being reconstructed and civilian series production was being slowly ramped up. It was only in 1948 that the archive returned to the Untertürkheim site.

The period of the German economic miracle is not only an era of change and productivity for automobile production but also for the archive: in 1954 it became an independent department, reporting directly to the Board of Management department “Central Management”. This period also gave rise to numerous important publications on the history of Daimler-Benz AG’s products and the company itself, as well as on the history of the automobile and technology in general.