The company’s first automobile, the patent motor car by Carl Benz in 1886, didn’t even have a wheel. Instead, it used a steering crank because carriage drivers were used to pulling on reins to direct the horses. The first steering wheel was created by French engineer Alfred Vacheron on his Panhard & Levassor, which was used in the world’s first automobile race from Paris to Rouen in July 1894. Vacheron only placed 11th in the race but the idea of the steering wheel took off.
Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft adopted the steering wheel in 1900 on its Phoenix racing car. Not only did this improve the driveability, but the wheel even included a tilting column. In 1902, the wheel even included essential engine controls such as ignition timing and the air/fuel mixture. Through the decades, other steering wheel innovations such as a klaxon horn button, horn ring turn signals, column gearshifts, power steering, crumple zones, impact absorbers, cruise controls, airbags, and multi-function controls were added.