1894 Hildebrand & Wolfmüller – the origin of the species

The Hildebrand & Wolfmüller is the world’s first production motorcycle and the first to be called a ‘motorcycle’. Strictly speaking, they called it a ‘motorrad’ since they were German but I digress…


Designed and built by engineers Heinrich Hildebrand and Alois Wolfmüller and their mechanic, Hans Geisenhof, it was launched in 1894. Initially, they were rather successful, building machines in factories across Munich. However, perhaps in their haste to be first, they launched their machine without much in the way of development work. This led to a number of problems, including a tendency to overheat. Sadly, the company didn’t last long and closed it’s doors for good in 1897.

The exact number built is not known with sources suggesting anywhere from around 800 up to 2,000. Naturally, very few are left today but the one that illustrates this article is believed to be the earliest numbered example remaining.


The Hildebrand & Wolfmüller was powered by a water-cooled, two-cylinder, four-stroke engine of 1,488cc capacity, capable of producing approximately 2.5 horsepower. It had a top speed of around 28 miles per hour, which was quite impressive at the time.

The connecting rods from both cylinders were attached (one on either side) to the rear wheel which serves as a flywheel. The white straps in the pictures are rubberbands (no, really) which aid the return of the rods. The radiator for the water-cooling system is hidden within the rear mudguard. All rather ingenious.

The Hildebrand & Wolfmüller motorcycle was a groundbreaking and innovative vehicle that helped to pave the way for the modern motorcycle industry. Its influence can still be seen in the design of today’s motorcycles and it remains an important part of transportation history.

Today, the Hildebrand & Wolfmüller is a rare and highly sought-after collectible. Only a few dozen examples are known to exist, and are prized by motorcycle enthusiasts and collectors for their historical significance and unique design.

This example will appear in the Dr Peter and Ulrike Bühner Collection of Important Pioneer and Collectors’ Motorcycles and Motor Cars sale by Bonhams. The sale will be held in The Grand Palais Éphémère, Paris on 1 February 2023. More details on this machine, guided at €110,000 to €170,000, are available in the lot description on Bonhams’ website.

Cut-away engine display

Also included in this auction, is Another Hildebrand & Wolfmüller lot is included in this auction, a cut-away engine display, believed to be the 2nd engine built by the factory and likely used to promote the company at exhibitions and fairs.

You can read more about this lot, guided at €17,000 to €22,000 in the lot description on Bonham’s website.

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