Siegfried Marcus An Uncredited Inventive Genius

Fact Paper 32-I

© Samuel Kurinsky, all rights reserved

Summary: Siegfried Marcus, a German Jew, invented the internal combustion engine and the automobile in Vienna, patenting the carburetor, electro-magnetic ignition, and over 150 other inventions, including an automatic picture-maker, electric light, remote cannon-firing mechanism, and electric bell.
portrait of Siegfried Marcus
Siegfried Marcus, whose invention of the combustion-engined automobile revolutionized transportation. The invention of the carburetor and magneto ignition that made it possible, and of over 150 other inventions, 76 of which are known to have been patented, place Marcus among the most influential inventors of all time. The Nazis sought to destroy his surviving automobile and to obliterate all references to it, but were prevented form completing that crime against history. Portrait from Siegfried Marcus, Ein Erfinderleben, by Dr. Gustav Goldbeck.

A Historiological Hiatus

Absent from American school books is the name of an inventor of enormous importance to contemporary civilization, Siegfried Marcus.

Machines employing the inventions of Siegfried Marcus can be numbered in the billions. Trucks and buses, automobiles and lawnmowers, motorboats and chainsaws - in fact - every mechanism employing a combustion motor and its carburetor, magneto ignition, and spark plugs, derives from patents granted to Marcus. They are but a few of the one hundred and fifty-eight significant inventions known to have been brought into the world by this technological genius.

Millions of vehicles crowd the world's highways. They are direct descendants of the original horseless carriages produced by Siegfried Marcus. It would appear that, of all of Marcus' revolutionary inventions, the internal combustion engine alone is so central to modern civilization that the name of its inventor would roll off the tongue of every grade-school child as easily as that of Watt or Whitney or Edison. The fact that so many other industrial and communication innovations are attributable to this German-Jewish genius makes even more remarkable the rarity of the appearance of his name.

The prestigious Encyclopedia Britannica (1994-2000 edition) assigns three paltry paragraphs to "Marcus, Siegfried." The cursory entry mentions a few of Marcus' landmark inventions: The telegraph relay system, the internal-combustion engine, the automobile, the electric lamp, and the carburetor, followed by the cryptic note, "and other electrical devices."

Despite crediting the invention of the internal combustion engine and the automobile to "Marcus, Siegfried," the name of Marcus does not even appear in the Britannica's extensive and otherwise comprehensive report on "Transportation, history of"!

At least the Britannica does have an entry under Marcus' name, whereas the name is entirely absent from many other encyclopedias. Where the name does appear, little note is taken of the scores of major inventions created by this gifted innovator.

A campaign to delete mention of the German-born Jew, Siegfried Marcus, from German and Austrian literature and archives was launched by the Nazi regime. It was part of the attempt to destroy all evidence of Judaic creativity. The Nazis were not satisfied with burning books by Jews and the documentation of Jewish works by deleting archival material. Some seventeen thousand Jewish institutions suffered the destruction of their archives. They also attempted to destroy all physical evidence of the Judaic contribution to German and to world civilization.

The Nazi forces received specific instructions upon their anschluss into Austria to destroy an original Marcus automobile, then on permanent exhibition at the Viennese Automobile Club They were also told to gather and destroy all photographs of its creation and existence, including all copies of a 1924 brochure that featured copies of the original photographs of the 1864 and 1874-5 models!

Fortunately, some alert and sensitive members of the Viennese Museum for Trade and Industry had the foresight (and temerity) to brick the machine up behind a cellar wall of the museum. Due to the courageous initiative of these unidentified persons the automobile survived, along with a few records of its invention.

The Nazi deletion of Marcus from history was part of the heinous campaign to eradicate both the Jews and the knowledge of their significant contributions to the evolution of civilization. We can thus expect that name "Marcus" would be absent from encyclopedias published during the period of Nazi rule. But how can we explain the absence of his name from encyclopedias published thereafter in Germany and Austria?

A search was made at the New York Public Library for "Siegfried Marcus" in their five post-World-War II German and one Austrian encyclopedias, published up to 1955. No mention of Siegfried Marcus was found! German and Austrian children were thus deprived of a significant, albeit Judaic-based, portion of their own (and world) history.

Changes have since taken place in Europe. Attention has recently been given to the man who contributed so enormously to the evolution of the industrial age. Reporting on the publishing of two new biographies of Siegfried Marcus, the Austrian Feature Service pointed out that until the onset of WWII, many generations of Austrian schoolchildren had been taught that this great inventor was a pioneer of combustion-engine vehicles. Until then, both German and Austrian students learned that Siegfried Marcus must be thanked for the first gasoline-powered automobile and for a host of other major inventions. Schoolchildren were taken on field studies to view one of Marcus' early automobiles on display as an Austrian National Treasure at the Automobile Club of Vienna.1

Substantiation of the renown and respect that Marcus had already achieved even before his invention of the combustion engine, can be had by reverting to encyclopedias of his time. For example, students in 1867 would refer to the Biographischem Lexicon das Kaiserhuses Österreich, in an edition of that date. In it they would learn about Siegfried Marcus from a lengthy article on him and his inventions. Two of the patented inventions that Marcus had presented to the Imperial Academy of Austria (in 1856 and 1865 respectively), the Antigraph and the Thermosäule are described in meticulous detail.1a These inventions will be described below.

The Austrian Feature Service reports that during the ignominious National Socialist era this "genius of an inventor" was deleted from historical records and the name of Siegfried Marcus disappeared from all school texts. Daimler and Benz appeared in his place as inventors of the automobile. The absence of Marcus from post-Nazi-era encyclopedias is eloquent testimony to the long-ranging effect of that Nazi-imposed hiatus.

A number of Germans and Austrians have made an effort to restore Marcus to his proper place in the history of technology, and indeed, of civilization. In 1949 an inventor, Mario Petrucci, campaigned for a monument to be re-erected to Siegfried Marcus in the central cemetery of Vienna. It had been removed along with all references to Marcus during the Nazi period. Vienna's mayor unveiled such a monument and placed it in the care of the Viennese State.2

The renowned editor and author Cecil Roth, in a 1956 edition of The Jewish Contribution to Civilization, made mention of Siegfried Marcus and of his various models of a "horseless carriage" and of several other of his inventions.3

Biographies of Marcus thereafter appear to have begun with a small, eighty-eight page work by Dr. Gustav Goldbeck, published in Düsseldorf in 1961, Siegfried Marcus, the Life of an Inventor. The book hardly made a ripple. It is the only book on Siegfried Marcus to be found in the New York Public Libraries! Much of the information in this Fact Paper was retrieved from that small but informative work.4

Dr. Goldbeck must be commended for his perseverance and diligence in scrounging through scraps of information surviving in the records of expositions and patent offices, in obscure scholarly papers, and in yellowed media journals to reconstruct as far as possible the life's work of a prolific and ingenious inventor. His book, however, remained in obscurity .

The efforts of biographers are severely limited because so many of the records of Marcus' accomplishments are missing. For example, on two occasions, in 1873 and in 1881, the Austrian Academy of Sciences awarded Marcus its prize for Mechanischer & Phisikalische Instrumente & Apparate. The prizes made reference to some of Marcus' landmark inventions, for which little other information is extant.

Many facts must be inferred from peripheral information, such as the fact on June 21, 1864, Marcus obtained a patent for the invention of a magnetically-activated detonator that became a standard munitions device for the Austrian, Prussian, Russian and eventually other armies and navies. The text of the patent is missing from the Austrian patent office. Goldbeck, however, found an original draft of the patent in the Viennese Technical Museum, where it evidently had been overlooked by the Nazis.4a

Unaware of the existence of the Goldbeck book at the time, but taking the cue from Cecil Roth's reference, Siegfried Marcus and the invention of the automobile was the subject of the first of the series of HHF Fact Papers. It was issued in 1994, launching a HHF initiative to bring the hidden history of Judaic technological and artistic creativity to light. Entitled The Automobile, it featured further details unearthed about the work of this phenomenally productive innovator.

Later that same year a biographer, Alfred Buberl, published Die Automobile des Siegfried Marcus (Bad Sauerbrunn, Austria).5 Buberl, a motor-car engineer who became a technology historian, is one of two Austrians who have undertaken to restore Marcus to his rightful place in the history of technology. In it he wrote that he has documented no less than 158 patentable inventions of Siegfried Marcus.

Another recent author of a biography of Marcus is Ursula Bürbaumer, who lauded the genius of Siegfried Marcus in a recent work in glowing terms. The anonymous writer of the Austrian Feature Service news article states in the latter context that the great inventor, Marcus, deserves so much credit for technological innovations and especially for the invention of combustion-engine vehicles, that he needs no mythos to put him in his proper place in history. The facts prove that what Ms. Bürbaumer wrote was, indeed, hardly overstated..

In 1992 Marcus was honored in Malchin, the city in which he was born, by the renaming of a Realshule. The Siegfried-Marcus-Realshule Malchin is a trade school for talented students from the fourth through ninth grades. The specially selected students can thereafter skip to the eleventh grade or apply for a trade apprenticeship. The school was outfitted with a computer room and a new chemical laboratory and boasts that it will be completely modernized in the year 2000 to be worthy "of the great researcher and inventor" for whom it was named. A small museum dedicated to bring the accomplishments of Siegfried Marcus to light was part of the refurbishing the school.6

A Siegfried Marcus Society was founded in Austria on October 28, 1998 by a self-declared "young and committed group... [formed] to provide a public rectification of the long-enduring injustice done to the ingenious creator and inventor of the automobile, Siegfried Marcus, the denial of recognition."

The society made its headquarters in the Automobilmuseum Stockerau. The first item on the society's agenda was to get the museum to rename itself as the Siegfried-Marcus Automobil-Museum!7

On March 1, 2000, the Austrian Society of Engineers and Architects recognized Marcus by awarding a prize of 100,000 Marks in the name of a Siegfried Marcus Foundation for a post-graduate dissertation on auto-mechanics.

American Provincialism

Europeans have made considerable progress in reconstituting this significant portion of the German, the Austrian, and the Judaic heritage. What shall we say of the continuing absence of Siegfried Marcus from American and English history books on technology? That void in English texts and reference books existed before the WWII watershed era for the Germans and Austrians, and is a historiological hiatus that persists

Monument to Siegfried Marcus, unveiled on June 27, 1949 in Vienna's central cemetery. It was erected by the Mayor of Vienna on the recommendation of Mario Petrucci, an inventor.

into the present.

What conclusion can we draw from the continuing dearth of information in the United States about a man who has contributed monumentally to civilization not only by inventing a series of practical combustion engines, and by using the engines for the development of a "horseless carriage," but by outstanding innovations in telegraphy, in photography, in mechanics, in electricity (Marcus patented an electric light in 1877), and in other vital technological disciplines?

Should we not expect that the name of the inventor of a mechanism so central to modern civilization as the combustion engine would be as familiar to every American eighth grader as are the names of the inventors of the cotton gin and the steam engine?

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers agreed. The society established a History and Heritage Center, and put on the Internet a call for sending notices to its Historic American Engineering Record about "endangered artifacts and sites of engineering significance." To the credit of the ASME, (perhaps because its editors considered the absence of information about Siegfried Marcus extraordinarily egregious), it decided to publish information on Marcus' achievements despite the foreign identity of the man and the foreign development of his inventions.

In several newsletters and in other submissions the ASME published photographs and biographical notes about Marcus and his inventions as an ASME Landmark.

Hopefully, the example set by the ASME will be followed by educators making the "landmark" inventions of Siegfried Marcus as widely known as they deserve, and by raising the status of Marcus to the highest ranks of the history of the evolution of the Industrial Age.

Siegfried Marcus, The Man

Gustav Goldbeck prefaces his biography by stating that Siegfried Marcus cannot merely be assigned to the category of road-charting pioneers or the roster of successful manufacturers. His status derives not only from his considerable and broad-ranging original works, but from his character. As a successful business man, his objectives did not hinge solely on the profits to be obtained. The profits his lucrative business produced, and the royalties he gained from his patents were consistently plowed back into research and the development of groundbreaking solutions to industrial and communications problems. Goldbeck amplifies the stature of Marcus by emphasizing that "The value of his life must be considered in totality."

In that context, one remarkable fact illustrates the innovation-dedicated, self-effacing character of the man. Although Marcus invented all of the elements that made the combustion engine a viable reality, although he successfully road-tested his first primitive automobile in 1864, and although Marcus produced updated and very sophisticated versions between 1864 and 1882, Marcus never applied for a patent for an automobile per se! Ever unsatisfied, Marcus continued through the next decade to refine his carburetor, his magneto ignition, and to devise an effective system of transmission.

Marcus constructed another, updated automobile about 1870. That the machine was never out of his mind is evidenced by the fact that the automobiles he produced and demonstrated in 1874 and 1875 were outfitted with superbly refined elements of the engine and transmission. These models were sophisticated machines with vast commercial potential.

The elements of these remarkable vehicles remain the essential guts of every gasoline-powered automobile to the present day.

Yet, Marcus never cashed in his horseless carriage. He continued to devote himself to a series of breakthroughs through the uncharted technological wilderness. Marcus took out patents for improvements of the elements of the machine in 1882, but left the marketing of the automobile to others. Benz and Daimler were the first to do so six years later in 1888, incorporating Marcus' inventions into their mechanisms, twenty-four years after Marcus had road-tested his landmark auto-mobile.

The combustion engine, including the separate inventions of the carburetor, magneto ignition, and the spark plug, installed in an automobile employing a unique differential gear system and a transmission to its rear wheels are all notable technological innovations. They are but a few of the achievements of this nineteenth century genius. Alfred Buberl prefaces his biography by stating that "Siegfried Marcus is one of the greatest geniuses of the nineteenth century. He was an effective force in Viennese science, and was extolled not only as the 'Pioneer of Electricity,' but for numerous accomplishments."

Buberl also notes that during and after his lifetime, Marcus was referred to as the Pioneer of Illumination" for the fact that it was he, and not Edison, who first accomplished a division of electricity and pioneered electric illumination of street and home.7a

Marcus won additional acclaim as "Pioneer of Communications!" He had already earned such a title while still in his teens as the inventor of the telegraph relay!

Marcus was, indeed, remarkably creative in his early years in the fields of electricity and telegraphy. These pioneering inventions of the young man should have sufficed to install him high in the inventor's hall of fame had he never produced an automobile.

The Early Years of Siegfried Marcus

Siegfried Liepmann Marcus was born during the formative industrial period on September 18th, 1831, in a house at 12 Markt Street in Malchin, Mecklenburg (about 75 miles northwest of Berlin). He was the third son of Liepmann Marcus (1790-1855) and Rosa Philip(p) (1796-1859, who came from Karlskrona in Sweden.. His father was a craftsman, and was the presiding elder and representative of the Jewish community. A plaque on the present-day Hotel Marcus announces that it stands on the site of the house in which Siegfried Marcus was born.

Marcus began as an apprentice machinist at the age of fourteen (According to Dr. Goldbeck; the Britannica states he was then 12 years old). He soon left his small hometown to complete his training as a machinist in Hamburg. In 1848, when he was seventeen years old, he left Malchin for Berlin to work in the newly-founded factory of Siemens and Halske. The records of the company for that period have not survived, so what we know of his experiences in the three years he worked there is very sketchy. What we do learn, however, is somewhat astonishing for a person of his age. It appears that Siemens recognized the inventive potential of the young man and gave him ample opportunity to expand his knowledge and skills. "Within three years [Marcus] invented a telegraphic relay system."8

Goldbeck points out that it is registered that Marcus was not only permitted to take credit for his innovations at the already prestigious engineering firm but won a prize of 1000 Talents for the invention of the relay! It was the first of many medals and prizes with which he became honored.

Marcus was assigned to the installation of a telegraph line between Berlin and Magdeburg. It was the

first such system put in place world-wide. Goldbeck regretfully notes that, unfortunately, although there are allusions to many improvements that Marcus made on telegraphy during this period, little definitive documentation is forthcoming about the work of Marcus at Siemens other than the prize he won for the telegraph relay.

It can be said, however, that the young Marcus' invention at Siemens and thereafter made direct communication between continents possible. The first undersea cable was laid between Calais and Dover in 1851, and the transatlantic cable followed in 1866.

We learn little about Marcus' personal life or that of his family, for the synagogue archives and most other records of the Jewish community of Malchin are gone. However, it is significant that Marcus became the representative of the Siemans company in Austria. A reference to such a weighty responsibility given to a young man hardly out of his teens was found in a letter from the Sprengstoffchemikers (dynamite chemist) Oscar Guttman to F. M. Feldhuas dated September 9, 1909.9

The doors of the telegraph authority in Vienna were opened wide for Marcus on the recommendation of his employer, the already renowned scientist Werner Siemans. The reception that Marcus received in Vienna, however, demonstrates that Marcus had already independently gained a formidable reputation as a machinist and innovator.

Marcus arrived in Vienna in 1852 to pursue his career. "It would not be out of place," writes Dr. Goldbeck, "to assume that the stiff quality of life in Berlin did not suit Marcus' character. In the environment of the Danube Marcus found life lighter, the atmosphere softer, and the people more tolerant. There the music and the beautiful women were, at that time of his life, more to his liking."

Marcus worked for a while at a Viennese engineering workshop but left it shortly for a prestigious post as machinist in the Imperial University's Physics Institute. Marcus' advancement and his insatiable appetite for innovation came quickly to the fore in that institution In early1855, Karl Ritter von Hauer published an article in the Polytechnical Journal in which he reported that Siegfried Marcus, an engineer in the Imperial Viennese University's Physics department, had invented and demonstrated an apparatus in which a unique gas-pressure activated cock regulated the flow into the gas-burner so that a uniform heat was generated. The writer described Marcus as "A talented young man who has already achieved renown for his work in the field of mechanics."10

Thus we learn that Marcus had received a order from the chemists, Karl von Auer, to develop a method of regulating gas-lamp flames. The young Marcus succeeded brilliantly by inventing an Apparat zur Erzielung gleichförmiger Temperaturen mittels einer Gaslampe, "An Apparatus to achieve even Temperatures in a Gas-lamp."

That same year Marcus expanded his repertoire of inventions with a Spiritusglühlampe, a "spirit lamp bulb," evidently an alcohol-fueled lamp.

During this period Marcus also assisted Karl Ludwig, professor of physiology and physics, for whom he performed chemical laboratory work. Professor Ludwig later detailed an invention that Marcus created during this early period. In 1855, at 24 years of age, Marcus had demonstrated his manifold talents by inventing the Artigraph, a graphics instrument to enable lithographers and copper-platers to save their designs in the negative on stone or copper plaques. We learn about this invention from a description in a paper presented by Professor Ludwig at a mathematics-science meeting of the Imperial Science Academy on July 12, 1885. It was published in a report on the Academy's meeting.11

Marcus fascination with electromagnetism led to his construction, assisted by other students of physics, of an apparatus that had no practical purpose but was employed for class research and study of the curious force.

The curious device served Marcus' inventiveness, for he went on to put what being learned in the classroom to practical use. He invented an electromagnetic Zeichentelegraph, or "telegraph indicator." The new devices, termed by Cecil Roth as "needle telegraphic transmitters,"12 were installed on the first telegraph line between Vienna and Berlin in 1856 along with the Marcus telegraph relay.

By this time Marcus had achieved the highest renown in telegraphic technology. Marcus was invested with a new project the following year, the installation of telegraph service for the Danube Steamship line

In 1858 Marcus obtained an Austrian patent for a Magnet-Elektrischen Induktor, an "electro-magnetic inductor," with which telegraphy became possible without the use of "voltaic elements," that is, without a battery.13 The study of magnetism derived from his endeavors to improve telegraphy, but its ramifications went far beyond that field. The eventual application of the electromagnetic principles led to the development of powerful electric motors and to the eventual invention of the magneto, one of the devices that made possible the perfection of his combustion engine.

There are records showing that Marcus was conducting experiments about 1860 to enable him to carry out commissions to install the electrical systems for the Prague-Vienna and Prague-Berlin telegraph lines by incorporating his electromagnetic inventions. This required the use of electric motors which, at this time, were insufficient for the job. Goldbeck states that it is not known with what apparatus and machines Marcus overcame this deficiency, but overcome it he did, and the lines were effectively installed.

The wide range of Marcus' talents and activities is made evident by a patent he was granted in 1859 for an Verbesserung an Shraubenschneidekluppen, or "An improved machine for cutting screws.

It is further recorded that, during this same period, Marcus made significant improvements upon the "Morse telegraph." In addition to expediting communication, the innovations made the system portable and therefore valuable as a military field telegraph. The Prussian army promptly adopted the device.

From 1858 to 1862, no less than five patents were issued to Marcus. Dr. Goldbeck culled this information from reports on these patents in articles by Erich-Runtsheimer in several scientific journals, dating from 1929 to 1956. 14

The earliest known prototype of the modern automobile is this Siegfried Marcus car in Vienna, Austria. Caption and photograph by courtesy of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.


Marcus' next great discovery, made possible by his magnetic inductor, was the development of a new method of magnetizing soft iron bars. The telegraph relay apparatus not only demanded powerful magnets, but also magnets that did not misfunction. Marcus constructed magnets that met these requirements. The details of this invention appear in the report of the experts of the Prussian commission assigned to patent applications. The magnets were placed in series and separated from one another by inserting them into thick grooved plates. The patent experts found this apparatus new and effective and recommended the issuance of a patent.

Marcus was later granted a Austrian patent for his electromagnetic device on June 21, 1864. The facts about this invention, however, comes to the fore six years earlier in a report by a secondary school teacher, August Schmitt, in the 1859 Poggendorf Annals on Marcus' in the journal of the Verband Deutscher Electrizität.15

Marcus then applied the electromagnetic principles he had developed to the creation of a new type of electric motor, stated to be 24" high and 20" deep. He installed thirty-six particularly strong electromagnets, and the motor achieved a hitherto unprecedented torque of 70-80 foot-pounds.16 An entirely new generation of powerful motors thus came into existence. This contribution to the evolution of electric motors was considerable, as it spurred

the application of electric power to heavier industrial use. It should be said that the electric motor owes this stage of

its development to Siegfried Marcus, and that its significance should not be understated.

On His Own Time in His Own Place

Marcus founded his own business in 1860, beginning as a workshop producing mechanical and electrical equipment. The business at 107 Mariahilferstrasse in Vienna grew into a substantial factory that served him as a base for producing a series of new inventions as well as an income for the rest of his life. "Here he began his own life, obligated to no one and free" to pursue his destiny. His eminently successful business ventures produced profits which in turn permitted him to expand his entry into new, uncharted technological fields. He undertook the repair of machinery, and was called upon by the textile manufacturers of the region to repair their equipment and improve the function of their machinery.

The fame that Marcus had already achieved by 1860 is evidenced by his being called to serve at the royal court. He was commissioned to install an electric bell in the bedroom of the Empress of Germany. The apprentice on the job later reported on the meeting Marcus had with the Kaiser. He was retained to give scientific lessons to the crown prince Rudolf, the ill-fated nobleman who committed suicide, and the murder of whose brother, Ferdinand, sparked World War I. He was likewise to meet and instruct other members of the court.

The Prussian Army Engineering Corps issued a call for proposals for an electrical activator which would spark an explosion. The device being used by corps since 1853 was far too bulky and much too delicate for field use. Furthermore, it could only be operated from a short distance, placing the operator in mortal danger. Marcus experimented with a small but effective ignition system employing friction-induced electricity, that is, an electrostatic generator operated by a Leiden jar. He continued to refine it over several years and finally produced a device that was not only easily portable but would operate without fail. Its most important feature, however, was that the operator did not have to be in hazardous proximity to the explosion. The device could be activated from a distance of up to 30 kilometers.17 That revolutionary capability transformed military, and especially naval military technology.

Marcus also created a hand-operated ignition apparatus (detonator) by placing a Siemens "Double-T-Armature" (a device he may have developed, or participated in developing when employed by Siemens), between two of his improved magnets, and thereby succeeded in inducing a powerful, dependable ignition in a relatively small space.18

Marcus got a patent for these inventions on June 21, 1864,19, and took them to the navy.20 He won immediate support from the heads of the engineer corps, Baron Ebner von Eschenbach and Baron Sterneck. The elektrische gesteuerte Zentralgeschüzabfeuerung was put into produc-tion in a factory owned by Georg Sigl that was producing locomotives, printing presses and other such machines.21

The Marcus detonator soon became of geopolitical significance in the war against Italy. The harbors of Trieste and Venice were sowed with mines employing the deadly, dependable device. The detonator was adopted and used over a long period of time by the Prussian army, where it was termed the "Viennese Igniter."22 By 1967 the Marcus detonator had already become standard in the Prussian army. The contribution of Marcus to Prussian prowess was honored in a glowing letter of thanks from General von Blumenthal.

Siegfried Marcus' reputation had already become so high in that early period of his life that the military establishment utilized his talents for the development of other munitions and military gear. In addition to the electro-mechanical sea mines, Marcus developed a hand-held firearm capable of 30 shots per minute.


The Hotel Marcus in Malchin, Germany situated on the site in which the house in which Marcus was born. A commemmorative plaque is affixed to the front of the hotel. Photo by Wolfram Btow

The International Exposition in Paris of 1867 presented a broad spectrum of technology of the times. It is from the surviving catalogs of this exposition and subsequent expositions, and from documents related to them that much of the knowledge of Siegfried Marcus' accomplishments has come to the fore. Marcus' inventions were widely represented in numerous exhibitions set up by armament institutions and manufacturers. Several versions of the Marcus detonator were featured. Three detonators he had designed with "shorter" movements took center stage in several exhibi-tions. One detonator with a "rotating" movement" was likewise demonstrated. Marcus' patron, Baron Ebner, exhibited another of his designs, a "frictional" detonator.

Other Marcus inventions appeared throughout the exposition: the Thermosäule, designed to turn heat directly into electricity; a magnetic-electrical rotation apparatus that produced electric light; also exhibited washis now famous field telegraph. The well-known electrical technician Ruhmkorff represented Marcus' interest in the Paris exposition.23

Marcus received a silver medal for his "works." The invention of the detonator in all its forms was probably one of the key factors in the honors Marcus received.24 It is curious that, despite the extraordinary fame the detonator achieved on the military front, Goldbeck could find no service manuals describing the device and its use. It was evidently missing along with other army literature that contained Marcus' name. Nonetheless, Goldbeck persisted, and found a reference in the Handbook for the National Engineers Service that obviously relates to the Marcus detonator. Had exposition catalogs and exhibit literature not survived, we would have missed much of the information about a device that played a significant role in fashioning military history.

The Marcus detonator found adventuresome employment on the Austrian Arctic Expedition of 1872-4 for breaking up packed ice. The scientists heading the expedition, von Weyprecht and von Peyer, were army officers familiar with the device from their service.

Marcus also invented a special Walfischmesser, whale-knife or spear, which was likewise employed by the Austrian North Pole expedition.

The income from licencing the detonator in all its forms was substantial. It made possible a considerable investment in further and expensive research. Marcus did not stint in applying his royalties to the pursuit of innovation throughout the rest of his life.

The fact that young Marcus had indeed achieved widespread scientific renown by his time is attested by a long and glowing article on him in the surviving biographical lexicon of 1867, Distinguished personalities of Imperial Austria.25

During this same period Marcus was devoted to the goal of directly converting heat directly to electricity. Had Marcus succeeded in this endeavor, he would have revolutionized industrial history. The use of organic fuels such as peat and wood, and of fossil fuels such as oil and coal would have been rendered as secondary sources of energy. In 1864 Marcus demonstrated a Thermosäule (Thermal column), an apparatus that did indeed convert heat directly to electricity. The current, although real, was too weak for a practical application. Marcus continued to improve and update his apparatus, an endeavor he pursued throughout his life. The next year he presented a paper on the application of his invention and was awarded a prize of 2500 gulden by the Viennese Academy of Science for his "considerable achievements in electricity."

The first atmospheric, electrical-generated, two-stroke, one cylinder, piston-driven engine in the world. With it Marcus successfully tested the elements of the modern combustion engine. Photograph from Ing. Alfred Buberl, Die Automobile des Siegfried Marcus.

The principle that Marcus endeavored to put into practical application was, however, conceived more than a century before its time. The massive amount of heat required to make a conversion of heat to electricity practical did not become available until nuclear energy was released and put under control.

Albeit Marcus never attained his goal of converting heat directly into a sufficiently powerful flow of electricity, his experiments proved valuable in the development of a hydrocarbon vaporizer (that is, a "carburetor"), a parallel field of endeavor. Its first application was for the production of illuminating gas. The Polytechnisches Journal, published in 1869, reported that the "machine for the production of illuminating gas from the volatile portion of petroleum" was at that date already being distributed by the thousands in America.26

Suffice it for the present to note that Marcus put his carburetor to another and more enduring use.

In experimenting with explosive substances to power an engine that would displace the ponderous steam engines of the day, Marcus lost three fingers of his right hand. Undeterred, he persisted and succeeded in developing an engine that would revolutionize transportation.

At this point we take the liberty to repeat that at this point in his life in 1864, at 33 years of age, had Marcus never gone on to build an automobile, he had already achieved enough to earn a high place in the inventors hall of fame. But Marcus did go on to new heights of inventiveness.

That is a story unto its own, and it will be told in HHF Fact Paper 32-II.

The first vehicledriven by a self-activated benzine motor (auto-mobile), built and road-tested by Siegfried Marcus in Vienna in 1864. Photograph from Ing. Alfred Buberl, Die Automobile des Siegfried Marcus.


1: Republik Österreich - Service - Austria Feature Service - Siegfried Marcus at
1a: A lenghty excerpt from the article can be found in Alfred Buberl, Die Automobile des Siegfried Marcus, Edition Tau & Tau, Vienna, 1994, 33.
2: Wienonline, account of June/1949:
3: Cecil Roth, The Jewish Contribution to Civilization, London, 1956, 157.
4: Dr. Gustav Goldbeck, Siegfried Marcus, Ein Erfinderleben, Düsseldorf, 1961.
4a: Goldbeck,Ibid., 13
5: Alfred Buberl, Die Automobile des Siegfried Marcus, Bad Sauerbrunn, Austria..
6: Realshule Malchin at:
7: Automobilmuseum Stockerau at:
7a: Buberl, Ibid., 15.
9: Goldbeck, Ibid., 6.
10: Dr. Gustav Goldbeck, Ibid., quoting Karl Ritter v. Hauer, Jahrbuch d, K. K. geol. Reichsanstalt, 1855, 64, and reprinted in the Polytechnical Journal of 1855.
11: Goldbeck, Ibid., 4.
12: Cecil Roth, Ibid., 157
13: Austrian Patent Office, VII/482, vgl. 1a, P. 34-5.
14: Goldbeck, Ibid., 6
15: "Marcus neue Methode, gerade Stahlstähle durch den Strich den magnetisieren," Annales d. Ph. u. Ch., edited by I. C. Poggendorf, 106, 1859, 646-48. Also G. Wiedemann: Lehre v. d. Elektrizität, Bd. 3, 1895, 112.
16: Gutarchten der Techn. Deputation f. Gewerbe Berlin, 9/10/1860. Zentralarchiv der Dt. Dem. Rep. Merseburg, Rep. 120TD, T575, Bd. I, Nr. 162/63.
17: Frh. v. Elmer: Über die Anwendung der Reibungs-Elektrizität zum Zünden von Sprengladungen, Royal Academy of Natural and Mathematical Science, Kl. Bd. 21,1856, 85-111, Illustrations I-V.
18: Official report of the General Directorate of the Exposition of 1873, no. 59, Geniuses and Pioneers, Austria, 1874, 19
19: OPA XIV/319.
20: The text of this patent is no longer in existence in the Austrian Patent Office. However, the Viennese Technical Museum possesses an original draft which presumably belongs to the patent specification.
21: F. R. Engl and Georg Sigl (1811-1887) in: Technik and Industrie, 8, p.87, Berlin 1918.
22: Obituary of Siegfried Marcus in the Neues Wiener Tagblatt, March 7, 1898 and Electrotech. Zeitshrift Wien 1898, 34C, p. 340.
23: Official report of the General Directorate of the Exposition of 1973, no. 59, Geniuses and Pioneers, Austria, 1874, 19.
24: The Letterhead of the writings of June 7, 1876, the Feldhaus archive, research office or Technology and Industry i Wilhelmshaven.
25: Goldbeck, Ibid., 7, quotingConstant and Wurzbach, Biographisches Lexikon d. Kaiserthumes Österreiches, 16, Theil, p. 422, Vienna, 1867.
26: Goldbeck, Ibid, 10, quoting from Dingler's Polytechnishes Journal, 1869, 33-36, plate 1.