Bertha Benz-the genius behind cars
There is a surprise song at the end of the article.
Just in case you have not heard of Bertha Benz. The lady who singlehandedly made the world to wake up about cars. The first person to drive a car beyond just testing.
These days, with over 1 billion motor vehicles around the world, cars are probably the most common form of transportation. We cannot imagine life without them. A different story about 125 years ago when they were almost banned.
This got me thinking about the first person to build a car and what led to it. We have all heard about Henry Ford and his mass produced model T in the USA.
Curiosity took the better of me and hence my internet search began. There might have been others, but Karl Benz of Germany was the acclaimed inventor of the modern automobile. Karl was born in 1844. He was an amazing engineer who had aspirations to replace the horse driven wagons with engines. Hence, he started to build the engine for the horseless wagons in his workshop, applied and got the patent for his invention on the 29th January 1886. That day is considered to be the birth of what we now as the motor vehicle. I will come back to Karl and what drove him at another time, this article is about somebody else.
What a lady
Yes, you guessed it, there was a lady behind the story.
Whilst Karl was shy and reserved, Bertha, his wife on the other hand was a confident woman who believed in her husband.
So who was Bertha? She was born 3rd May 1849 into a wealthy family but decided to marry the shy, struggling engineer. She supported her husband’s venture even before they got married in July 1872.
Once they are married, she invested her dowry and the inheritance from her father into her husband’s ventures. Like all entrepreneurs and innovators, Karl’s businesses failed several times.
Bertha also helped with the design of the engines and most importantly, she was his greatest supporter. There were several people, including the church who were against the invention of the horseless wagon. Karl having made several engines that failed was afraid that he would once again face rejection. Despite his patents, the world was not ready to accept the automobile as a form of transportation.
Gutsy or what?
Bertha decided to take matters into her own hands. On the 12th August 1888, whilst her husband was away and without his knowledge, Bertha and their 13 and 15 year old sons took the wagon on a spin, not just around the block, but to see her parents 60 miles away. No one had ever driven a car for more that a couple of miles. The roads were only suitable for horses and horse wagons.
There were no gas stations on the way and the car broke down several times. The journey took over 12 hours, with several stoppages on the way for fuel and to fix the wagon. This was an epic journey by a very brave and determined lady. She drove the car back a couple of days later through a different route. That journey not only changed people’s perception about wagons but that the new wagons were not as dangerous as people made them out to be, if a housewife could drive one.
Later, the wagons were not allowed to exceed a speed of 4 miles per hour. You also needed 3 people to operate them; a driver, a flagman (to walk in front of the car warning people of the dangerous wagon) and a mechanic. They definitely wanted to kill the poor car. People have always been afraid of new inventions.
Bertha changed the world of transportation and in doing so changed the world. One can only imagine that without this gutsy lady the advancement in car technology could have taken a few years longer.
Watch the documentary about this incredible lady by clicking on the link below.
At a time when women’s role were barely recognised, this was a remarkable feat by an extraordinary lady. Bertha died in May 1944 at the age of 95.
What a trailblazer.
From such a humble beginning, the Mercedes Benz is now a global phenomenon. The silver arrow is a symbol of prestige and luxury. Karl and Bertha Benz, Mercedes Jellinek, Wilhelm Maybach, Gottlieb Daimler and others who got the company to where it is today.
Anyone old enough to remember the song by Janis Joplin
Look out for the story of another incredible lady. Clara Bryant Ford( 1888- 1950). The wife and business partner to Henry Ford.
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