International Women’s Day: Bertha Benz

Bertha Benz around 1870 courtesy of the Bühler, Mannheim - Automuseum Dr. Carl Benz, Ladenburg.Bertha Benz was not only the business partner and wife of Karl Benz, she was also a pioneer in the auto industry. In fact, there very well may have not been any Benz vehicles if she hadn’t invested a sizeable portion of her dowry into the company of her future husband, Karl Benz.

The 66-mile journey that revolutionized the auto industry

It was on August 5, 1888, she became well known as the first person to drive an internal combustion vehicle over a long distance. With her sons in tow, she embarked on a 66-mile journey from Mannheim to Pfrozheim in Germany driving over familiar wagon track in their patented1886 Benz-Motorwagon Number 3. Bertha was 39 years old when she made the trip driving to her mother’s, but wanting to prove to her husband that their investment in their new motor vehicles could provide a return on all of their hard work by demonstrating how motorized vehicles could be useful to the public.

Mechanic, business women and mother

To embark at dawn on such a journey without her husband’s and the authorities’ permission was one thing, while obtaining the fuel and keeping the vehicle running was quite another. At the time, the petrol needed to power the combustion engine was only available at chemists (pharmacists). She purchased the 4.5 liters of fuel needed for the journey in Weisloch making it the “first fuel station in the world.” Along the way, she was her own mechanic unclogging the fuel line, addressing insulation issues, and refining the brake system– all of which would lead to significant design improvements in later models.

This first long-distance trip gave her and the Benz-Motorwagon vehicles the recognition they needed to continue building and refining these new horseless wagons. Bertha’s automotive knowledge and experience paved the way for many improvements one of which included an additional gear to make driving up hills easier along with the importance of extensive test driving.