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Bertha Benz: The First Female Automotive Pioneer

Every day we use automobiles to travel, both for work or pleasure. Automobiles have changed the way in which we live, in so many ways. Something that attracted the attention of the public is vehicle safety features, which have been created and implemented in recent years. The first automobile's invention and the first motorcar's development impacted society, culture, technology and even politics. The story of Bertha Benz inspired the advancement and trajectory of the automotive world for decades to come.

Amie-Lynn Mitchell

Content Creator

Bertha Benz

Bertha Benz’s story is the earliest known automobile crime, which occurred on August 5, 1888, when Bertha Benz stole her husband, Carl Benz’s vehicle. This was the first ever recorded automotive theft in history and was considered as such because Bertha did not receive permission from her husband or the local authorities. She went on to be the first person ever to drive an automobile a significant distance. Bertha had a couple of different motivations for making this trip. Despite the trip's primary purpose: to visit her mother, Bertha Benz had other reasons for stealing the vehicle. She wanted to show her husband, who had neglected to sufficiently market his invention, that once the general public had the chance to see the vehicle and its capabilities, it would be a huge success. Bertha’s act was an attempt to provide her husband with the confidence he needed to get his invention off the ground.

As Bertha was hoping, the trip gained her and the Model III a considerable amount of publicity. Everything Bertha learned on the trip helped to improve the vehicle; she even suggested the implementation of an additional gear for going uphill. Essentially, she was the pioneer for test drives which are now an integral part of the car buying experience.

Going The Distance

One of the most important contributions Bertha Benz made to the automotive industry was the feasibility of long-distance travel. Prior to her invention, people could rarely travel more than 50 kilometres from their homes because horse-driven carriages were not easy to control or repair. This is evident in her 2,200-mile journey from Mannheim to Pforzheim in August of 1888.

Betha’s trip in the three-wheeled automobile took five days with more than 30 stops along the way so she could fill her car's gas tank at gas stations and buy oil before the trip ended in Pforzheim. In doing so, it was proven that people could use their new vehicles to travel long distances without having to rely on railroads or horse-drawn wagons.

Inventing Gears

The invention of the mechanical automatic transmission was a major contribution to the automotive industry. The automatic transmission was invented solely by Bertha. The early internal-combustion engine required manual gear changing, and this hindered its use as a practical means of transportation. Bertha Benz recognized the need for an automatic transmission that would change gears automatically and allow for cars to travel over all different types of roads, up hills and down dales.

Hit The Brakes

Another major contribution Bertha invented was brake lining. On her journey travelling over varied terrain, she discovered that while going downhill, the car was burning out brake shoes at an alarming rate. A quick thinker, Bertha stropped off at a cobbler and asked him to fit the brake shoes with a leather lining. In doing so Bertha Benz created what we now know as the brake pads.

Woman Behind The Wheel

Bertha Benz was the first woman to drive a motorcar, and her invention was a progressive step in the world's automotive industry. She was not only an inventor and driver, but she encouraged others to freely experience her creation. She is the reason why travelling by motorcar has become so prevalent around the world today. The automobile has been a symbol of luxury, freedom and independence ever since its inception. The automobile also empowered women to work outside the home, so it is widely considered one of the most liberating inventions of all time. Despite its reputation as an industry that solely catered to men, women have contributed greatly to this booming industry!

The history of the automobile is a rich and fascinating one, and it's a story that Mercedes Benz and other OEMs continue to write. Bertha Benz was an inspiration for the world's first automobile pilgrimage in 1901, driving her husband Carl's invention about 160 kilometres (100 miles). As we travel further into the future, we continue to take big steps towards even more technological advancements in the automotive world.