Bertha Benz, first woman automobile pioneer

Wife, business partner joins husband Carl in Automotive Hall of Fame

Published: July 24, 2016, 10:30 PM
Updated: July 28, 2016, 1:56 PM

Bertha and Carl Benz on one of his inventions

Bertha Benz

Carl Benz is widely regarded as the inventor of the automobile, but very little is known about his wife Bertha — the strong woman and visionary business mind behind the innovator.

Now widely regarded as the first female automotive pioneer, Bertha Benz was recently inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame for her contributions as the business partner that made a significant contribution toward engineer/husband Karl’s successfully filing the first patent to develop the automobile in 1886 by demonstrating the on-road capability of the proposed invention.

“We are thrilled to honor Bertha Benz for her entrepreneurial spirit that played a vital role in creating what is today's global automotive industry,” said William R. Chapin, president of the Automotive Hall of Fame. “This marks the first time that a husband-and-wife team have both been inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame, which is truly extraordinary."

Carl Benz was inducted into the Hall in 1984.

Bertha provided the financial support (investing her inheritance) for Carl to pursue his dream of bringing his invention to the street, as well as having the understanding and vision to promote her husband’s work

“The role she played in making her husband's invention become reality always used to be an important topic in our family,” explained Jutta Benz, great-granddaughter of Bertha and Carl Benz. “As the role of a wife was in the late 1800s, she also had to take care of the family, raise five children, do all the housekeeping, cooking, etc. Thus, it was as twice as much she accomplished compared to a man.

“So if I may say so, it's about time that Bertha Benz becomes inducted to the hall of fame – 32 years after Carl and 130 years after her achievements,” she continued. “For me personally, it is of great satisfaction that my great grandmother is being honored now.”

Bertha and sons on their epic road trip

Prior to this honour, Bertha had mostly been renowned as the first person to take a long automotive road trip, with her two sons Richard and Eugen, from Mannheim to Pforzheim (about 100 km) in August 1888.

The distance is insignificant today, but it took the trio a full day from departure to arrival, including stops to purchase Ligroin (the car’s fuel, which could only be bought at apothecary shops), unclog a fuel line (which she did using her hat pin), repair an ignition wire (using her garter as an insulator) and purchase leather to repair the wooden brake blocks (in effect inventing the brake pad).

She made the trip without her husband’s knowledge, sending him a telegram when the three arrived safely at her parents’ home in Pforzheim, in order to show the resiliency of the invention (thus showing a marketing savvy that to this day is as important in the auto industry as the development of new vehicles).

“In the years to follow and with new products developed, Benz & Company became the leading manufacturer of automobiles worldwide around the turn of century,” concluded Christian Boucke, head of Mercedes-Benz Classic. “We are very proud that Bertha Benz is now in the Automotive Hall of Fame together with her husband Carl – she really deserves it!”