“Unfortunately, a girl again….”
today at 11:48 am
It isn’t often one thinks about or even considers the spouse of a famous automotive pioneer. We came across the story recently of Bertha Benz, a German automotive ‘pioneer’ in her own right. Wife-and business partner of Karl Benz Bertha was the first person to drive an automobile over a distance of 66 miles while field-testing it: the patent Motorwagen by Carl Benz (August of 1888). She also invented brake pads while solving several practical issues.
Apparently quite a visionary, Bertha was the first person to ‘test-drive’ a vehicle. A very determined lady, Bertha was denied access to higher education due to the belief at the time, that “the lighter brain of women was logically unable to absorb and process as much information.” Just as absurd, the belief went that thinking too much was harmful to a woman’s child-bearing ability! Nevertheless, Bertha became interested in technical matters when young. Her father, a successful carpenter, who wrote in his diary-later discovered by Bertha after her birth “unfortunately, a girl again…” but it never dissuaded her. He worked with her explaining such things as the workings of a locomotive. Because of her enthusiastic response, Bertha was allowed to attend a school for high-born daughters at the age of nine. Her favorite subject was ‘natural science.’
Paying little attention to naysayers, Bertha preferred the life of an introverted tinkerer and didn’t hesitate to invest her entire dowry in the Benz company. Although this was no easy task-or time-for such endeavors, Bertha married, and supported Carl Benz, an unrecognized design genius, in the business of automobiles.
Experiencing hard work and many setbacks, the duo registered a patent for the Motor Car on January 29, 1886, making Car Benz the inventor of the automobile. At first, no one was interested in purchasing the Motor Car. So, to prove its value, Bertha undertook a long-distance journey from Mannheim to Pforzheim, to demonstrate the car’s value. Bertha and two of their sons-in secrecy-took to the road in the Benz Patent Motor Car. Due to poor roads, lack of fuel, and clogged valves, she resorted to a garter (insulation) and a hat-pin (unclog the fuel line), and ligroin-a petroleum solvent needed for the car to run. When running out of gas, she helped push the Motor Car for several miles.
How this vehicle ever ran is a miracle. The brakes were wooden-needing a cobbler to install leather as brake pads and creating a cooling system to cool the engine. Each time they stopped over those 66 miles, they added water to their supply. Built with just two gears, the Motor Car often had to be pushed by her sons to navigate steep roads.
Getting lots of publicity was just what was needed to spread the word about the new Benz vehicle. Introducing it in such an innovative way didn’t hurt either. The trip also led to introducing several improvements. Bertha chronicled all that happened over those 66 miles, made suggestions and improvements, as well as introducing the importance of test drives.
Although it would be many years before the automobile gained its importance, there is no question these early discoveries were an essential start. On her 95th birthday, Bertha Benz received the honor of honorary senator by the technical University of Karlsruhe. She died two days later… “a woman who allowed nothing and no one to dissuade her from her visions.”