MAN Truck & Bus

Portrait of Heinrich Büssing

Heinrich Büssing: a pioneer in mobility

02/02/2021

He built bicycles, designed signal boxes for the railway and went down in history as a pioneer in the construction of trucks and omnibuses: Heinrich Büssing. This German inventor owned almost 250 patents and founded several companies, including the future Büssing AG, which was taken over by MAN in 1971.

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The bicycle pioneer Heinrich Büssing (front) with his self-built 3-wheeler. The picture was taken around 1870.

Heinrich Büssing was born on 29 June 1843 in the village of Nordsteimke, now a district of Wolfsburg. After obtaining his leaving certificate from the village school, he trained as a blacksmith with his father. Two years later, at barely 18 years old, Büssing spent a year and a half wandering through Germany and Switzerland. The young craftsman discovered on his travels how radically industrialisation was altering life and working patterns. He recognised that the future would belong to industrial production. Spending the rest of his life in his father’s business was something he could no longer imagine. He wanted more.

Back home, he enrolled as a guest student at the Collegium Carolinum in Braunschweig, later the Technical University of Braunschweig, and attended lectures in mechanical and civil engineering. In 1866, aged 23, he found employment in an engineering office that specialised in railway construction. But even that did not hold the energetic Büssing back for long: he became self-employed in 1868.

Büssing’s beginnings as a bicycle manufacturer

Heinrich Büssing opened a “velocipedes factory” with a small workshop in Braunschweig where he built bicycles he had designed himself. The young father of a family had no doubt that mobility would play a key role in the industrial age.

Büssing proved his creativity as an inventor right from the start. He continuously improved his two- and three-wheeled bicycles with iron tyres; he made them more elegant and affordable – and popular by means of clever marketing. He advertised them using letters, brochures and small ads and presented them at exhibitions.

Familienbild H.Büssing 1895
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Family portrait Heinrich Büssing (seated, second from left) with his family in the garden, taken in 1895.

But it all came to an end in 1870: Büssing fell into financial difficulties and had to abandon his production. This was partly due to the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, which wrecked his international business connections.

Chief designer at the Jüdel Works

In the same year, Heinrich Büssing made a renewed attempt as an entrepreneur with a mechanical engineering company. Although the company landed him with large debts. The tide turned for the inventor when he joined with Braunschweig merchant Max Jüdel to found a railway signalling company in 1873.

Heinrich Büssing became chief designer in “Eisenbahnsignal-Bauanstalt Max Jüdel & Co” and realised many pioneering ideas in railway construction. In total he applied for 92 patents in this field – but his inventive spirit was far from exhausted by this.

His switch to trucks and buses

Heinrich Büssing wanted to further advance the mobility of people and goods. He therefore withdrew from the railway business at the start of the 20th century and in 1903 together with his sons Max and Ernst he founded “H. Büssing, Special-Fabrik für Motor-Lastwagen und Omnibusse” on the site of a former laundry in Braunschweig. The engineer, who was by now 60 years old, had been experimenting with commercial vehicle construction since 1900. In 1902, he built his first experimental vehicle called “the grey cat”. Although the designer already had a fulfilling and successful professional career behind him, he did not yet see the full potential of mobility exhausted – especially not for the general populous.

“We are building vehicles for people who would otherwise have to walk. Others may wish to build for people who previously drove in a carriage”, was how Büssing formulated his company’s objective in 1903. That same year, the Büssings produced the first roadworthy truck driven by a two-cylinder petrol engine with an output of 9 PS. A little later, in 1904, came the young company’s second coup: the production of a 20-PS chain-driven omnibus with a maximum speed of 30 km/h. The bus could carry twelve people and soon went into series production.

We build wagons for people who would otherwise have to walk. Others may build for people who previously drove carriages.

Heinrich Büssing
Inventor and entrepreneur

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Patents

was the German inventor's total. Throughout his life, he constantly developed new innovations and improvements.


 

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Patents

alone were registered by Heinrich Büssing in the area of vehicle development.


 

The vehicle’s frame consisted of U-beams, which were otherwise used in railway construction. The wheels were made of hard rubber. The vehicle had a patented rear axle suspension and a differential lock. Büssing, in cooperation with Continental, started developing the first pneumatic tyres in 1906 to make driving in his vehicles more comfortable.

First Braunschweig, then the world

Heinrich Büssing distributed his vehicles with great success. As early as 1904, his buses operated in regular service under the umbrella of the Büssing-owned “Automobil-Omnibus-Betriebs-Gesellschaft Braunschweig”. Postal items were also soon transported by these buses.

Also from 1904, the company delivered 400 chassis to London, where they served as the substructure for the predecessors of the famous double-decker buses. Expansion into international markets actively drove the company forward: from 1908, branches were established in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev, Odessa, Riga, Warsaw and the Netherlands.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the company, which had been using the Braunschweig lion emblem for advertising purposes since 1913, rose to become one of the leading commercial vehicle manufacturers in Germany and Europe.

From 1923, Büssing produced buses with three axles, with the two rear axles being driven. The first Büssing bus with an underfloor engine was introduced in 1929. It was a three-axle “forward control” vehicle with the type designationHAWA-Trambus. Underfloor motors had the advantage that they were very accessible for maintenance and gave more space for cab design. There was also less noise and odour in the interior.

An unforgotten pioneer

Heinrich Büssing died in 1929 at the age of 86. He had acquired more than 150 patents in the field of vehicle development. His sons continued to run the company and later made a name for themselves with technical innovations. This included a motorway bus with respectively two 140 PS diesel engines presented in 1934. From 1936, Büssing produced two-axle and three-axle tram buses with underfloor engines. During the Second World War, the company produced crawler tractors, armoured scout cars, aircraft engines and trucks, including a light and off-road model, the so-called “Einheitsdiesel” (standard diesel truck).

It was converted into a public limited company, Büssing AG, which last made a profit in 1960. Salzgitter AG merged with the company in 1962 and took it over in full until 1968. Production was relocated to Salzgitter in 1965. Excessive development costs among other things brought the company into ever greater economic difficulties. The company was eventually taken over by MAN in 1971.

MAN retained the Büssing corporate logo, the Braunschweig lion. It still decorates the radiator grille of MAN commercial vehicles to this day – thus reminding us of the "king of trucks" and pioneer of mobility, Heinrich Büssing.

People in front of the Büssing-NAG Trambus 900 TU with first underfloor engine in Hannover 1936
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Quite popular This Büssing-NAG Trambus 900 TU with the first underfloor engine carried passengers in and around Hanover in 1936.

Text   Susanne Theisen
Photos   MAN

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