Bertha Benz - A Tribute To Pioneering Women, Moving Our World Forwards .

In celebration of International Women's Day, and coinciding with my love for automobiles - I thought to make a tribute to the pioneering women in automotive history. However, I tend to go on for a bit long, so any more than just one person would easily make this a 10,000-word post.

It took me a while to find the one to celebrate, as there's quite a list to choose from. From engineers, to racing drivers, women around the world have contributed much to the cars that we now know and love, created and refined over the centuries. While history may have forgotten them, their sacrifices and legacy still stands.

Credits to: The Mechanists

After some thinking, I've decided to travel far back in time, about 132 years ago, in fact. Here, we find ourselves exploring the story of one fascinating and spectacular woman - Bertha Benz. That surname might sound familiar, and it should be. Due to her contributions, and that of her husband, Karl Benz - the die for what would be the modern car, is cast.

Throughout their lives, this inventive husband and wife duo would help to reshape mankind, adding to our industrial revolution, and redefining how we travel. While Karl Benz may have engineered the car, it was Bertha Benz that brought it to the world, while also helping to redefine the template to what an automobile is, and can be.

Going The Distance.

Credits to: Mercedes-Benz (Benz-Patent Motorwagen)

The Benz-Patent Motorwagen, built in 1885, is widely considered to be the fist production automobile. Forged by Karl Benz, a lifelong engineer and designer, while the project was financed by Bertha Benz, whose wealthy family-relations helped to keep Karl's cash-strapped workshop afloat.

The Motorwagen was a 3-wheeler, which had a rear-mounted engine. Speaking of, the early variants had a 1.0L, 1-cylinder, 4-stroke engine which had just two-thirds of a horsepower. While inconceivable in today's cars, the engine was at least light for its time, weighing only 100kg. Later variants would manage 2 horsepower, with a top speed of 10mph.

Credits to: Mercedes-Benz (Benz-Patent Motorwagen)

It was in a later variant, the Model 3 - where the world understood what an automobile can do. Karl Benz may have been a great engineer, but he failed to market his creations properly, thus receiving little attention. Noticing the need for greater publicity, Bertha Benz took the opportunity to take the Motorwagen out for a drive.

One chilly morning, on the 5th of August 1888, Bertha Benz along with her two teenage sons, Eugen and Richard, went for the world's first long-distance road trip. Without the knowledge of her husband, the journey was a chance for Bertha to visit her mother, while also seeing how the Model 3 would cope away from the short-distance trials that it was used to.

Mercedes did a good job at re-living Bertha's journey, and her experiences, albeit a bit dramatised.

From their home in Mannheim, they went through Heidelberg and Wiesloch, and onto her maternal home in Pforzheim. Arriving at dusk, she spent a night at her mother's to recuperate, and sent a telegram to her husband, before returning back to Mannheim 3 days later, with much interest. It was even done without noting the authorities, which was technically illegal.

Overall, the entire journey covered 121 miles (194km), which is a very long distance even by today's standards, especially given the Model 3's top speed of 10mph. This was a key, and pioneering moment in automotive history. Prior to her long-distance drive, other early motorised trips were done in short distances, and always in the company of technicians to help rectify problems along the way.

Credits to: The Mechanists

This inspired other workshops to utilise long-distance journeys and more intensive test-drives, as a means of improving their cars. By bringing much attention to the Motorwagen, it proved that her husband's creation worked, and gave Karl the courage to further refine the Motorwagen, following input and experiences from Bertha's drive.

Necessity Is The Mother Of Invention.

As well as having driven the first production automobile for 121 miles, Bertha also helped to nurse it along the way, as her own mechanic, while also inventing new concepts that will soon be ubiquitous with automobiles. While certainly brave and savvy, Bertha also proved to be ingenious.

Credits to: Mercedes-Benz

Bertha used anything that she can get her hands on, or with things that she can find, along with help from people along the way that were enthused by this machine. When the carburetor and fuel-lines got clogged, she cleared it with her hat-pin, meanwhile using parts of her garter as insulation.

Since the Model 3 had no fuel tank, and had to rely on just 4.5 litres of petrol in the carburetor, re-fueling was a challenge. But it was no match for Bertha, as she stopped by to purchase ligroin, a type if petroleum-based solvent, from a pharmacy in Wiesloch - thus creating the world's first fueling station.

Credits to: Mercedes-Benz (Stopping for some ligroin.)

During her long journey, it was often that the brakes would wear down. As a solution, Bertha asked for a local shoemaker to nail some leather on the wooden brake blocks, and invented brake linings. The Model 3 also had only 2 gears, which made going up inclines rather difficult, forcing Bertha and her two sons to push it up slopes. With her experience, Bertha suggested to Karl for the addition of a third gear, which was later created, and helped fix the problem.

A Tribute.

Credits to: Mercedes-Benz (Bertha, and Karl Benz)

"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." ~ Karl Benz, notes from his memoirs.

Through many trials and tribulations, Bertha's wits braved her in a world where men walked on their feet, rode on horses, and took the train. Her inventive spirit helped to push her loving husband, as the Benz name continued to make new automobiles, lorries, buses, and broke through land-speed records, with ideas that carry on today.

Now, Bertha's historic long-distance drive is celebrated every 2 years, with a gathering of antique cars from around the world. In 2008, the Bertha Benz Memorial Route was created to follow her journey along a roughly similar 121 mile-stretch, and it also hosts the Bertha Benz Challenge. A commemoration of her creative legacy - engineers, designers, and enthusiasts are tested on creating vehicles with new and forward-thinking concepts; breaking technological barriers to redefine what a car is, and can be.


Credits to: The Mechanists. You'll see here a monument (right) dedicated to Bertha Benz's legacy, and you'll also see the local apothecary (left) where they fueled up - the world's first petrol station.

Stories like hers are worth re-telling and celebrating - given the generalisation of automobiles, and masculinity. Annoyingly, these have almost always distracted us from remembering the tremendous sacrifices made by women throughout our automotive heritage. Let Bertha's story, along with countless other women be an inspiration to our future generations

Credits to: Mercedes-Benz (History of Bertha Benz)

Dedicated to Bertha Benz, 1849-1944.

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  • @bluemoon

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