Driving Innovation

June 22, 2016

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The driving force behind the invention of the automobile

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 that she and the boys were going 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 prototype Benz Patent-Motorwagens away from the house so that he would not be awakened when Bertha brought its single-cylinder engine to life. She and the children then set off on what would become the first long-distance journey ever taken by automobile.

Though Bertha Benz was not the inventor of the Motorwagen, she was one of the leading investors in its development. She had funded her husband’s business ventures even before they were married and continued to do so even after losing her legal rights as an investor upon her marriage to Carl in 1872. Carl completed his first Patent Motorwagen in 1885, a machine most consider to be the first automobile. Despite Carl’s mechanical talents, he struggled to market his invention. It was Bertha’s drive that would generate interest and demand for the Motorwagen by proving its potential as a means of personal transportation.

During her journey, Bertha stopped at an apothecary shop for fuel, creating the first gas station. When the vehicle’s wooden brakes failed, she asked a cobbler to install leather replacements, producing the world’s first set of brake pads. Bertha also made repairs to the vehicle herself, using her garter to repair the ignition and a hat pin to clean a blocked fuel pipe. After reaching Pforzheim, Bertha notified Carl of their successful journey by telegraph and returned to Mannheim several days later. Though people were startled at the sight of the Motorwagen chugging down the road, the trip received a great deal of publicity and jump-started sales, just as Bertha had intended.

Carl Benz was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1984. With Bertha’s induction this year, she and Carl will become the first married couple ever inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame.

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