Gottlieb Wilhelm Daimler was the son of a baker named Johannes Däumler (Daimler) and his wife Frederika, from the town of Schorndorf near Stuttgart, Württemberg. By the age of 13 (1847), he had completed six years of primary studies in Lateinschule and became interested in engineering. The next year, he began an apprenticeship with a carbine maker, Raithel. He graduated in 1852, passing the craft test with a pair of engraved double-barreled pistols. The same year, at eighteen, Daimler decided to take up mechanical engineering, abandoning gunsmithing, and left his hometown.
Signing up at Stuttgart's School for Advanced Training in the Industrial Arts, under the tutelage of Ferdinand Steinbeis. Daimler was studious, even taking extra Sunday morning classes. In 1853, Daimler, with Steinbeis' assistance, got work at "the factory college", F. Rollé und Schwilque in Grafenstaden, so-called because its manager, Friedrich Messmer, had been an instructor at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.
Daimler performed well, and when Rollé und Schwilque began making railway locomotives in 1856, Daimler, then 22, was named foreman. Instead of staying, Daimler took two years at Stuttgart Polytechnical Institute to hone his skills, gaining in-depth grasp of steam locomotives, as well as "a profound conviction" steam was destined to be superseded.
He conceived small, cheap, simple engines for light industrial use, possibly inspired by the newly developed gas engines of that era. Therefore, in 1861, he resigned from [R&S], visiting Paris, then went on to England, working with the country's top engineering firms, becoming knowledgeable with machine tools. He spent from autumn 1861 to summer 1863 in England, then regarded as “the motherland of technology”, at Beyer, Peacock and Company of Gorton, Manchester. Beyer was from Saxony.
While in London, he visited the 1862 International Exhibition, where one of the exhibits was a steam carriage. These carriages did not evidently inspire him, however, for his wish was to produce machine tools and woodworking machinery. Daimler went to work for Maschinenfabrik Daniel Straub, Geislingen an der Steige, where he designed tools, mills, and turbines. In 1863, he joined the Bruderhaus Reutlingen, a Christian Socialist toolmaker, as inspector and later executive.While there, he met Wilhelm Maybach, then a 15-year-old orphan.
Thanks to Daimler's organizational skills, the factory managed to show a profit, but he quit in frustration in 1869, joining Maschinenbau Gesellschaft Karlsruhe in July. When in 1872 Otto und Langen reorganized as Gasmotoren-Fabrik Deutz, management picked Daimler as factory manager, bypassing even Otto, and Daimler joined the company in August, taking Maybach with him as chief designer.
While Daimler managed to improve production, the weakness in the Otto's vertical piston design, coupled to Daimler's stubborn insistence on atmospheric engines, led the company to an impasse. Neither Otto nor Daimler would give way, and when Daimler was offered the choice of founding a Deutz branch in St. Petersburg or resigning, he resigned to set up shop in Cannstatt (financed by savings and shares in Deutz), where he was shortly joined by Maybach. At Cannstatt, Daimler and the more creative thinking Maybach devised their engine.
At Daimler's insistence, it eliminated "the clumsy, complicated slide-valve ignition", in favor of a hot tube system invented by Leo Funk, since Daimler also distrusted electricity. It took considerable effort an experimentation, but eventually, the duo perfected a .5 hp (0.37 kW; 0.51 PS) vertical single, which was fitted in the Reitwagen, a purpose-built two-wheeler chassis with two spring-loaded stabilizerss.
When this proved the engine capable of driving a vehicle, Daimler devised a 1.1 hp (0.82 kW; 1.1 PS) single and ordered a Wimpff und Soehne four-seater phaeton to house it. Daimler's engine was installed by Maschinenfabrik Esslingen and drove the rear wheels through a dual-ratio belt drive.