Bertha Benz: The First Long-Distance Driver
Bertha Benz was the wife and business partner of automobile innovator Karl Benz. In August of 1888, she was the first person to drive an automobile over a long distance when she field-tested the Patent-Motorwagen by driving it 65 miles and attracting local and press interest along the way. During the trip, she had to improvise many car repairs.
Early Life and Marriage
Bertha Benz was born Cäcilie Bertha Ringer on May 3, 1849, in Pforzheim, then located in the Grand Duchy of Baden. Her family was wealthy. Before she married Karl Benz, she invested part of her inheritance into his iron construction company. Under German law, she lost her ability to act as an investor after their marriage in 1872. However, her money provided financial support for his new venture, Benz & Cie. Karl completed his first motorized vehicle in 1885. Although Bertha financed the invention of the Patent-Motorwagen and contributed many improvements, such as an improved fuel line and brake pads, she was not allowed to be listed on the patent.
Karl and Bertha had five children. Eugen was born in 1873, Richard in 1874, Clara in 1877, Thilde in 1882, and Ellen in 1890.
Karl Benz patented the Patent-Motorwagen in 1886. Over the next decade, he would build 25 versions. One version was the Model II, which could be converted into a four-seater. The Model III was the first version to be sold to the public. The vehicle featured rear-wheel drive. The front-wheel was steerable. Customers had options for seating arrangements and a fold-down canvas top.
First Cross-Country Automobile Journey
Bertha Benz woke up Eugen and Richard, her two oldest children, one August morning in 1888 and had them push the Model III into the street. They accompanied her on the 65-mile trip to their grandmother's house. Before this trip, the vehicle had only been driven around town. Bertha made this trip to test the vehicle's abilities, prove to Karl that the automobile they both worked on could be a commercial success, and draw attention to their work.
During the drive, Benz's technical prowess was called upon repeatedly. She had to stop at a pharmacy to obtain ligroin, the solvent used to fuel the vehicle's engine. She fixed a clogged fuel line with her hatpin. She removed one of her garters to insulate a frayed wire. And when the wooden brakes started failing, she asked a cobbler to make leather pads to cover them, thereby inventing the world's first brake pads. When she arrived in Pforzheim, she sent a telegram to her husband telling him of her feat.
Benz's drive attracted the publicity she wanted. It was a turning point in the development of automobiles. Her experiences on the trip drove several innovations, including the ability for the vehicle to go over hills and the addition of brake linings to improve the car's stopping power.
Bertha Benz died in 1944, in the house where they had set up a new workshop and established Benz and Sons in Ladenburg. Karl died in 1929. Before his death, he wrote of Bertha that she sustained him and made his invention possible. Today, their home is a historic landmark and a meeting facility for a scientific nonprofit.
- Bertha Benz: Bertha Benz was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2016 in recognition of her status as the world's first long-distance driver and the innovations she improvised on the journey.
- Bertha Benz's Ride: Benz knew the car was ready for a drive, even if her husband disagreed with her.
- Bertha Benz and the First-Ever Road Trip: History was made when Benz put her two sons in a car and headed off for her mother's house.
- Women in Transportation History: Bertha Benz, World's First Long-Distance Motorist: The first long-distance drive used a car that wasn't made to go uphill. Benz's teenage sons (and interested passers-by) had to physically push the car up inclines.
- Bertha Benz and the World's First Motorized Road Trip: Long before Benz climbed behind the wheel of a car, she assisted in its development by funding her husband's attempts at creating an automobile.
- How Bertha Benz Made the World's First Road Trip When There Were No Roads: Not only did Benz take the first road trip, but she did it in a world without roads designed for cars.
- Meet Bertha Benz, the Woman Who Took the First Real Drive: Along with Benz's family money, she also contributed confidence that was unshaken by her husband's perfectionism. That confidence led her to test the car in a way her husband wasn't ready for.
- 20 Women Who Rocked the Automotive World: Benz is included in this roundup of female automobile pioneers and glass-ceiling-breakers.
- Rethink Your Relationship With Cars: Benz didn't just make automotive history that day; her drive radically changed the course of human development.
- Benz: How a Road Trip Jump-Started the Auto Industry: Benz made her historic trip in a car with wooden brakes and a cooling system that required constantly adding water. She got the needed fuel from a pharmacy on the route.
- Scientist of the Day: Bertha Benz: Germany established the Bertha Benz Memorial Route between Mannheim and Pforzheim in honor of Benz's achievement and contribution to motor history.
- Mercedes-Benz Focuses on Bertha Benz in Epic New Ad: Mercedes-Benz released an ad in 2019 that told the story of Bertha Benz and traced the evolution of the company itself.
- Bertha Benz's Excellent Adventure: Karl Benz was described as a genius but not a visionary. It was Bertha who provided the vision that led to the success of the first car and the founding of what would eventually become Mercedes-Benz.
- Bertha Benz, Automotive Pioneer: Benz's accomplishments were honored with her induction into the Automobile Hall of Fame.
- Bertha Benz: Mother of the Automobile: Benz displayed a talent for science from an early age.
- Mercedes "Bertha Benz" Autonomous Car Drives Into Retirement: Mercedes-Benz named an autonomous test car after Bertha Benz in recognition of her historic drive.
- Bertha Benz: Not Just Another Pretty Face: Benz made her fated trip not just to see her mother but to publicize her husband's invention.
- Get to Know Bertha Benz, the Grandmother of Motoring: The first major contribution Bertha Benz made to history was when she bought out Karl Benz's partner, which occurred before she and Karl married.
- How Bertha Benz Set the Wheels in Motion: The Patent-Motorwagen needed repairs during the journey, and Benz was up to the task, brainstorming ingenious solutions to keep the car going.
- Bertha Benz: The first long-distance drive consisted of 60 miles driven over 12 hours, including stops for repairs along the way.
- Bertha Benz: The First Driver: Mercedes-Benz USA released this advertisement in 2018 in honor of Benz and her achievement.
- The Boom of Motorization: How Karl and Bertha Benz Transformed the Automotive Industry Forever: Marrying Bertha brought Karl the money he needed to continue his work as well as an able partner in developing his motorcar.
- Bertha Benz's 60-Mile Drive in 1888 Made Headlines for Her Husband's Fledgling Auto Company: Benz's logistical talents and ability to understand how to interest the public in her husband's invention helped establish his creation in the annals of history.
- Rearview Mirror: Bertha Benz Had Key Role in Car's Success: Benz broke out of her prescribed role as a wife and mother to assist her husband in developing one of the world's first motorized vehicles.
- Happy Birthday, Automobile! Karl Benz's Motorized Tricycle Is 130 Years Old: Karl Benz filed for a patent in January of 1886, two years before his wife publicized the machine with her drive across Germany.
- The History Behind the Brand: The Mercedes-Benz logo is one of the most recognizable in the industry.
- Karl Benz: This biography of Karl Benz includes information about his marriage to Bertha.
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