Adam Opel was born May 9, 1837 in the town of Rüsselsheim near Frankfurt. He began his career as a locksmith apprenticeship but became fascinated by sewing machines during his travels across Europe. While in Paris in 1859, Opel went to work for F. Journaux & Leblond, a maker of sewing machines. In March 1862, he moved to another manufacturer, Heuguenin Reimann, to broaden his understanding.
In August 1862, Opel returned home to begin building sewing machines by hand and selling them. A year later at the age of 25, he began to hire employees and opened a factory in Rüsselsheim to mass-produce these machines. In 1868, Adam Opel married Sophie Marie Scheller, and they had five sons: Carl, Wilhelm, Heinrich, Friedrich and Ludwig. All five of these boys would eventually become involved in the growing family business and guide from sewing machines to automobiles.
The sewing machine business grew rapidly. Soon Opel sewing machines could be found as far away as the United States in the west and India in the East. By the time of Adam Opel’s death some 32 years later, his company had become the Europe’s leading producer of sewing machines.
In 1884, a year in which the company employed 240 people and built no less than 15,000 sewing machines, Adam Opel discovered a new fascination on trip to Paris with his wife: the bicycle. Opel purchased bicycle parts from a manufacturer in England to study and build for his sons. The next year, Opel expanded its business to include building pre-assembled bicycles. This enterprise proved more profitable on a piece by piece basis than his sewing machine business.
By 1886, Opel began manufacturing its bicycles as a second core business. His oldest son Carl entered bicycle races throughout Germany to promote the products of the family business. These events were gaining popularity at soon the marketing strategy paid off as Carl came up victorious a number of times. As it turned out, all five sons were talented cyclists. Together they won over 550 races on Opel bicycles by 1898.
Business grew steadily and Opel began to offer a number of different two-wheel and three-wheel type cycles. Opel eventually became Europe’s largest bicycle maker, producing over 20,000 units a year. Adam Opel died in 1895. Four years later his sons took the company in a new direction and introduced first Opel automobile in 1899.