Bertha Benz – the journey that changed everything

For many years and for no real reason, the automotive industry seemed to be very much a male domain, but thankfully this has well and truly changed.

However, it’s worth noting that in the mid 1880’s, automobile inventor Karl Benz’s wife Bertha, was not only his financial backer and business partner, but also the first person to drive an automobile over a long distance. In doing so, she gave the Benz Patent-Motorwagen some great publicity which in turn initiated its first sales, and as they say in the classics – the rest is history.

It’s a great story how two years before their marriage in1872, Bertha then an un-married woman was able to invest part of her dowry into Karl’s struggling iron construction company as according to German law, after marriage Bertha lost her legal power to act as an investor.

Not only did Bertha bank role the Motorwagen, but she was also a field tester, contributed to its design and identified several key areas of opportunities – such as the fuel line design, adding wire insulation and inventing leather brake pads. Under modern law she would actually hold patent rights today, but again as a married woman, at the time she was not allowed to be named as an inventor on the patent. The part of the Bertha Benz story I love is when on August 5th 1888, without telling her husband and without permission of the authorities, 39-year-old Bertha with her sons Richard (13) and Eugene (15) drove a Model 111 Motorwagen along wagon tracks from Mannheim to Pforzheim to become the first person to drive an automobile a significant one-way distance of about 106 km (66 miles).

This video gives a great insight into the historic drive:

Bertha Benz – the journey that changed everything

So, what’s the world’s first car-like to drive, Derek Muller in this Vertasium Channel video not only looks at the Motorwagen but also how vehicle safety has evolved over the years.

The world’s first car

In 2011, to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the automobile, a dramatized television movie about the life of Karl and Bertha Benz was made named Carl & Bertha which premiered on German television and here’s the trailer:

Making of the film Carl and Bertha

According to Wikipedia:

Bertha Benz died in her villa in Ladenburg in 1944, where the workshop of Karl Benz had been built after they had moved there in 1906 and he established a solely family-held business, Benz and Sons. Karl Benz had died in 1929, after the success of Daimler-Benz was assured. Members of the family resided in the home for thirty more years. The Benz home now has been designated as historic and is used as a scientific meeting facility for a non-profit foundation, the Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz Foundation, that honors both Bertha and Karl Benz for their roles in the history of automobiles.

In 1925 Karl Benz wrote the following in his memoirs: “Only one person remained with me in the small ship of life when it seemed destined to sink. That was my wife. Bravely and resolutely, she set the new sails of hope.”  Bertha Benz was obviously an amazing woman, and more people should be aware of the role she played in the creation of the motor vehicle as we know it today.

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