On the morning of August 5, 1888, Bertha Benz and her two oldest sons quietly left their house while Bertha’s husband Carl lay asleep. Bertha left a note on the kitchen table informing Carl they were leaving to visit her mother in Pforzheim, Germany, some 60 miles away, but failed to mention how they were getting there. The trio then entered Carl’s workshop and pushed one of his Benz Patent-Motorwagens down the road so that Carl would not be awakened when Bertha brought its single-cylinder engine to life, embarking on what would be the first long-distance journey ever taken by automobile.
Though Bertha Benz was not the inventor of the Motorwagen, she was an investor in its development. She had funded her husband’s business ventures before they were even married and continued to do so even after losing her legal rights as an investor upon her marriage. Carl Benz had completed his first Patent Motorwagen in 1885, but was struggling to market it to the public. It was Bertha’s drive that would spark interest in the Motorwagen by proving its potential as a means of personal transportation.
Bertha had to make several repairs to the Motorwagen during the journey, using her garter to repair the ignition and a hat pin to clean a blocked fuel pipe. When the vehicle’s wooden brakes failed, Bertha asked a cobbler to install leather replacements, creating the first set of replacement brake pads. After reaching Pforzheim, Bertha notified Carl of their successful journey by telegraph. Though people were startled by the Motorwagen chugging down the road, the trip received a great deal of attention, just as Bertha had intended. Carl Benz was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1984.
With Bertha’s induction, she and Carl are the first married couple ever inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame.