De Dietrich is one of the oldest manufacturing companies in France. It is located in the Vosges Mountains in North-Eastern France, where, as early as in the 17th century, the rich natural resources of Alsace were beginning to be tapped. The presence of iron-ore, forests and water power led to the building of blast-furnaces and forges. In 1684, Jean Dietrich purchased a local iron works.
His grandson Jean de Dietrich, ennobled by King Louis XV in 1761 for services rendered to the Crown, expanded the business by purchasing and enlarging the iron foundries and steel-mills of Zinswiller and its surroundings.
By the mid-19th Century the company became a specialised manufacturer of railway wheels, axles and rails.
Due to effects of the 1870/71 Franco-Prussian War, Alsace and part of the neighbouring province of Lorraine had been annexed by the victorious Germans, who instituted protectionist customs duties that restricted sales to the firm’s main customers in France. To counter this, in 1879 De Dietrich set up a French subsidiary in Lunéville, a border town that attracted former citizens of the annexed territories who had chosen exile rather than adopt German nationality. The subsidiary became a separate company in late 1897.
In the same year De Dietrich launched production of Bollée tricycles built under licence in both factories! While the German part produced cars for only a few years, the French side had a more enduring and long-lasting presence on the French automobile market.
In 1901 Baron Adrien de Türckheim, whose father had married into the de Dietrich family and ran the Lunéville factory, was tasked to find a more advanced design, as the Bollée tricycles had become seriously outdated. Early in 1902, Adrien de Türckheim visited Nice – probably for the Automobile Meeting at the beginning of April – and saw an unfamiliar car that interested him. It was a Turcat-Méry, built by cousins Léon Turcat and Simon Méry, who put together their first experimental automobile in 1896 and set up a manufacturing company in Marseille three years later.
De Türckheim was taken for a drive in one of the new Turcat-Mérys, and was so impressed by its design that he took out a licence to build Turcat-Mérys under the De Dietrich name at Lunéville.
While De Dietrich participated in various races, e.g. the 1902 Paris-Vienna race, it was only in 1905 that the company was chosen to represent France in the Gordon-Bennett Cup.
By that time there were ginormous engine sizes – the De Dietrich featured a 17,012 cc (!) 130-hp engine. The car also adopted a honeycomb radiator, just like Mercedes. The metal-to-metal clutch, low-tension magneto, and chain drive were typical of the period. Arthur Duray drove the car at the race.
In 1905 the automobile production branch was spun off from the DeDietrich company and Lorraine-Dieitrich was born. Lorraine-Dietrich went on to have a successful run until the 1930s.