Béla Barényi (1 March 1907 – 30 May 1997) was a Hungarian-Austrian engineer, regarded as the father of passive safety in automobiles. He was born in Hirtenberg near Vienna during the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His father Jenő Berényi (1866–1917) was a Hungarian officer, a teacher at the military academy at Pozsony, a former Hungarian capital (now more commonly known as Bratislava after the creation of Czechoslovakia following World War I and the Treaty of Trianon).
For decades Barényi was known as the most prolific inventor in history. When he retired on 31 December 1972, he already had more than 2000 patents, twice as many as Thomas Edison; by 2009 Barényi had over 2500 patents.
After mechanical and electrical engineering studies at the Vienna college, he was employed by Austro-Fiat, Steyr and Adler automobile companies before joining Daimler-Benz in 1939. Heading the pre-development department of Daimler-Benz from 1939 to 1972, he developed e.g. the concept of the crumple zone, the non-deformable passenger cell, collapsible steering column, safer detachable hardtops etc. and other features of Mercedes-Benz automobiles.
He is also credited with having conceived the basic design for the Volkswagen Beetle in 1925, five years before Ferdinand Porsche claimed to have done his version. Barényi was nominated for the award of Car Engineer of the Century in 1999 and inducted into the Detroit Automotive Hall of Fame in 1994.
Barényi died in Böblingen, Germany. A Mercedes advertisement featuring Barényi’s image stated: “No one in the world has given more thought to car safety than this man.”
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