The start of Opel automobile production in Rüsselsheim: The foundations for successful, affordable, innovative and future-proof mobility on four wheels was laid by the Opel brothers 125 years ago.

Start of an Era

125 years ago, the Opel family laid the foundations for its future success as a car manufacturer: on January 21, 1899, Wilhelm Opel, son of company founder Adam Opel, signed a contract with the Dessau master locksmith Friedrich Lutzmann to buy his Motorwagenfabrik (motor car factory). The date marked the beginning of an era – previously a successful sewing machine and bicycle manufacturer, Opel thus ventured into territory unknown to the company.

Opel’s success story began in 1862: Adam Opel build his first sewing machine in Rüsselsheim, thereby laying the foundation for the company. Opel soon developed into one of the largest sewing machine manufacturers in Germany and exported throughout Europe. With the bicycle, Opel gained its next successful foothold. The first penny-farthing was built in Rüsselsheim in 1886, making Opel one of the first bicycle makers in Germany. In the 1920s – in parallel to the car business – Opel became the world’s largest bicycle manufacturer, a success for which the sons of the now deceased company founder were responsible.

The era of Opel cars began in 1899 with the Opel Patent-Motorwagen System Lutzmann. Next to Heinrich Opel (right) sits the plant manager, Sedlazcek.

They are also the ones who made the fundamental change to motorised transportation for the Opel company. Due to a decline in the bicycle business in the 1890s, the Opel brothers were searching for new products and came across the automobile. Fritz and Wilhelm Opel visited the first German Motor Show in Berlin in 1897 and met Friedrich Lutzmann there. The master locksmith had been producing motor cars since 1894 and therefore had the experience the Opel brothers were looking for. He invited the Opel brothers to his factory in Dessau where Fritz and Wilhelm immediately recognised the potential for automobile manufacturing that Lutzmann offered them.

The first sales brochures appeared in spring 1899 and announced, “Opel motor cars are the best.”
The transition to a car company was begun by the Opel sons.
A brochure from 1899.

While all involved initially thought of a cooperation, the Opel brothers then made Lutzmann an attractive offer for the entire production, including land, building and workshop equipment. On January 21, 1899, Wilhelm Opel and Friedrich Lutzmann signed the contract for a purchase price of 116,887 marks and the factory became the property of Opel. The whole company, including employees and machinery, was relocated from Dessau to the Opel headquarters in Rüsselsheim. Lutzmann himself was appointed sales manager of the Adam Opel Motorfahrzeug-Fabrik.

Automobile production begins in Rüsselsheim

The takeover of the production and patents meant that Opel immediately gained years of experience in building motor vehicles. From then on, Lutzmann and selected employees brought in from Opel’s bicycle production manufactured cars under the name Opel in a specially erected building. The first advertisements for the new models appeared as early as spring 1899 and announced, “Opel motorcars are the best”.

The photo shows the Lutzmann family’s house in Dessau. Over the entrance hangs the master locksmith’s coat of arms.
Friedrich Lutzmann is one of four exhibitors at the first IAA in 1897 in Berlin. There he meets Fritz and Wilhelm Opel.
The Opel plant in 1898: The machinery was transferred from Dessau to Rüsselsheim in the winter of that year.

Since then, more than 75 million Opel vehicles have left the production plants all over Europe. “Like Opel 125 years ago, we are now at the beginning of a new era. Back then, the company became a pioneer by entering the automobile age. Nowadays, Opel is an electric pioneer, offering locally emissions-free, individual mobility that is also suitable for everyday use”, says Opel CEO, Florian Huettl.

Anniversary under banner of electromobility

125 years after the start of automobile production in Rüsselsheim, Opel and its customers are driving into the future locally emissions-free, with vehicles that are fun to drive and suitable for everyday use. 2024 will be marked by the major anniversary and Opel’s continued journey towards electrification, accompanied by celebrations as well as innovative new models. More information about the anniversary year will follow soon.

Lutzmann meets Astra: In the anniversary year of 2024 there will be a battery-electric variant of every model for the first time in Opel’s history – here the Astra Sports Tourer Electric, one of the first all-electric estate cars on the market.

January 2024

Photos: Opel, Opel Archive