On a summer day in August of 1888, Bertha Benz impacted the automotive world for an eternity. On that day, Bertha and her two sons visited her mother, but how the journey took place was the thing that marks Bertha in the history books. The three visited her mother with the first motor powered carriage, dubbed the first car in the world. Her husband, Carl Benz, developed and patented what is now considered the first car ever two years before her heroic journey, in 1886.
Their trip proved that Carl Benz would have never have made it without his wife Bertha. She was not only his wife, for him she was an investor, a motivator and a fellow inventor all in one.
Bertha Benz: The Bond and Life With Carl Benz
She could have lived a comfortable life as a daughter of a wealthy family from the Baden area in Germany. Nothing was expected of her other than marriage to a gentleman of her stature. But that wasn’t enough or in interest for Bertha Benz. Instead, she falls in love with the somewhat odd mister Carl Benz. Benz was full of ideas in his head but he didn’t not have a single penny in his pocket. He was also better at talking about technology than about his feelings.
From the beginning it was more than love that connected both of them and that was what contributed to their 50+ years of life, love and work. Because Carl was able to study, he had the knowledge. But she quickly became the driving force behind the invention of the first car. When he despairs, she pushes forward. This dynamic we believe was the key to today’s success of the company and the initial success. Bertha’s mindset was the key for the success of Carl Benz and it is not nearly credited enough today.
Bertha’s father, a carpenter by trade, had made his wealth through building speculation. When Bertha was born, as his third daughter, he wrote in frustration in the family bible: “Unfortunately only a girl again.” Bertha knew about her fathers disappointment and was committed to leave a mark in this world. She was more than just a useless girl whose only achievement was marrying a wealthy man.
This also explains why Carl Benz’s pronounced passion and idealistic lifestyle did not repel her. This passion for wanting to make something extraordinary and unique was what drove them together and kept them through all the trials and tribulations. She did not care for money, they both had a vision. She believed in his vision of the self-driving car. He, in turn, is fascinated by the knowledge-thirsty young lady, who doesn’t want to fit in with the times – a time when professors propagate that the female brain weighs less than the male and is therefore not suitable for thinking, only for childbearing. The pair married in 1872, and Bertha’s inheritance money all goes towards Benz ‘failing iron company in Mannheim.
On January 29, 1886, Carl Benz received the patent for his well-designed motor vehicle, and his beloved Bertha was the first woman to drive. Success is a long time coming. Two years later they still haven’t sold a single car. When the responsible ministry again only issued a restricted driving license on August 1, 1888, after which it was not allowed to drive outside of Mannheim and the surrounding area, Bertha was fed up. With her sons, she drives more than 100 kilometers from Mannheim to Pforzheim. It is the world’s first long-distance journey: forbidden, life-threatening and extremely strenuous.
The First Ever Motorized Road Trip of Bertha Benz
The confident woman that Bertha Benz was, she had no problem with road tripping behind her husband’s back. Without a driver’s license (the only man on the planet with a driver’s license was her husband, and he only got it 2 days prior to her trip) and without Carl Benz knowing, Bertha and her two sons Eugen and Richard, 15 and 13 years old at the time, headed out in the “patent mobile” to visit Bertha’s mother. Her mother lived 100 km away in Berta’s hometown of Pforzheim.
Seeing as her story and the story of her road trip was featured in a movie, you can only imagine how legendary the story really was. Bertha turned a pharmacy in a small town of Wiesloch into the world’s first gas station. Bertha bought ligroin, a common cleaning agent at the time, which served her as fuel for the 3 horsepower single cylinder engine. But that was not it, the journey also demanded some on-the-go repairs. One of those was cleaning a dirty fuel line, the smart woman that she was, Bertha used a hairpin to clear the clogged fuel line. She also had to fix the ignition, for which she used her garet, she had to fix the engine’s chain, for which she used the help of a blacksmith and to top it off, Bertha and her sons had to top up the engine with cold water every few kilometers to prevent overheating. As if that is not enough, they also had to mend the brakes several times and push the car uphill as the 3 horsepower engine had no power transmission. They were a true sensation in the towns that they had passed and a true nuisance to all the horses and other animals that were afraid of the loud motorized carriage.
The Trip That Sparked The Fire
Bertha and her sons made the trip from Mannheim to Pforzheim and back in 13 hours and proved once and for all to Carl Benz that his invention has the potential to transform the world. And it did. Carl Benz later told the public: “She was more daring than me and undertook a journey that was decisive for the further development of the motor vehicle”. Carl Benz then did everything he could to help his car achieve a breakthrough. This was achieved with the presentation at the Munich “Power and Working Machinery Exhibition” in the same year and finally at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1889.
The rest is history, Carl’s crazy idea of a motorized carriage made it into production. The “Benz Patent Motor Car No. 3” was built in series and offered for 3000 gold marks. The “Benz & Cie. Rheinische Gasmotorenfabrik Mannheim”, later “Benz & Cie. AG”, was the largest automobile factory in the world in 1900 and later merged into the corporations that still exist today.
Without the “Girl” There Would Be No Benz
In the Science Museum in London there is a Benz Patent Motor Car No. 3, which is certainly the oldest surviving car and is very likely the car in which Bertha undertook her legendary journey. But Bertha Benz didn’t just write transport history with her historic journey. Without her, Carl would not have been able to make his invention in the first place, or at any rate never have been able to bring it to market maturity.
For many years, the ever-growing family with four children sometimes had to live very poorly because Benz was unsuccessful as an entrepreneur. Bertha ran the household with iron frugality. Every penny was invested in Benz’s work. Without her he would have been lost, as he later concedes in his memoirs: “Only one person stayed next to me in the little ship of life in those days when the sinking was approaching. That was my wife. Brave and bold, she hoisted new sails of hope.”
On 4 April 1929, Carl Benz died in their family home. The duet becomes a solo. Bertha survived her husband by 15 years. She was shocked to see how her country was reduced to rubble and ashes during the second world war. On her 95th birthday, however, she is granted one last joy. The Technical University of Karlsruhe awarded her the dignity of an honorary senator as the first woman. She won her fight to be more than “unfortunately just a girl”. She died two days later.
Read all about the Mercedes-Benz brand of today here. How the humble beginings turned into the big brand of today is truly astonishing. To see more pictures and the route, check the official page on Mercedes-Benz.com
Frequently asked question
What did Bertha Benz invent?
Bertha Benz did not invent the first automobile, but she did have a big part in its development and invention. She is accredited for wanting to introduce the third gear to the car which made Carl Benz’s invention much greater.
How did Bertha Benz die?
Bertha Benz died of an acute bronchitis at the age of 95.
How far did Bertha Benz travel?
The great journey of Berthe Benz from Mannheim to Pforzherim was 66 miles or 100 kilometers long.
When did Bertha Benz die?
Bertha Benz died on the 5th May of 1944.