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Automobile Biography facts history

Bertha Benz


Life story of Bertha Benz, the true force behind Karl Benz, Creator and inventor of Benz automobiles. This is her story.


Almost all of us are familiar with Mercedez Benz. The luxury car brand and its one of a kind inventions. But did you know that there is a woman behind all that glory. If it was not for her there would not be a Benz for us to see. Karl Benz was the creator and inventor of the Benz automobiles but without her help and actions he could not present his biggest invention to the world.

She is Bertha Benz, Wife of Karl Benz. She was the first person to drive an automobile over a long distance, field testing the patent Motor-wagen, inventing brake lining and solving several practical issues during the journey of 65 miles (105 km). Her journey changed the perspective of people about the automobiles and led many new inventions for the automobile industry.

By Bühler, Mannheim – Automuseum Dr. Carl Benz, Ladenburg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4236628

Childhood and Early Years

She was born in 3rd May 1849 in Pforzheim, Germany as Cäcilie Bertha Ringer. At that time women were prohibited to engage in higher education. They were expected to bear children and to handle housework only. Since childhood Bertha was interested in the technical problems despite what the society was expected. Her father was a carpenter. And one day he explained her about the locomotive or simply about the train engine. Which triggered her little brain. But as she grew up she realized that the role of the female within her family and the society. But it could not stop the spark within her.

Bertha was an attractive woman and soon she had a long list of people who were willing to be married to her. All wealthy and handsome but she realized that she would not agree to a lifestyle of a wealthy nobleman’s wife.

Bertha Ringer at the age of 18
By Unidentified photographer – Daimler.com, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15195633

Meeting Karl Benz and Marriage

During a coach excursion organized by a club called ”Eintracht” in 1869, young Bertha and her mother met the young engineer and inventor Carl Benz. As they chat the young engineer explained about his newest experiment on a horseless carriage. At the end of the conversation Bertha had realized that whom she would marry. She gave away her chance to live like a wealthy woman married to a nobleman. Anyone including her father could not change her mind about the young penniless engineer.

Karl Benz at the age of 25
Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3482675

She decided to invest a part of her dowry in Carl’s iron construction company before her marriage. Because according to the German law at the time once a woman is married she would lose her legal power to act as an investor. After two years in 20th July 1872 Bertha Ringer married Karl Benz in a small wedding.

Her life as a wife was not easy. The reality was much harder. Soon Bertha became no stranger to hunger and public ridicule. Because Carl Benz was good inventor but he was a lousy businessman. But Bertha never left his side and always supported him in every way she could. The Benz couple had 5 children. They are Eugene, Richard Clara, Thilde and Ellen.

Karl finished work on his first horseless carriage in December 1885. Bertha served as a field tester, contributing to the design of the Motorwagen by adding wire insulation and inventing leather brake pads to supplement the wooden brakes when they failed. In 1886 Carl Benz Benz presented the Patent-Motorwagen automobile to the world, which is widely consider as the first motor car.

But no one seemed to be interested in the car let alone buy it.

Journey to Pforzheim

On 5th August 1888, 39 years old Bertha Benz took the model III, along with her elder sons Eugene and Richard who were 15 and 13 at the time and went for this historic drive that would change the whole world. She did this without telling her husband or anyone of authority. Before this historic trip, motorized drives were merely very short trials, returning to the point of origin, made with assistance of mechanics. Following wagon tracks, this pioneering tour covered a one-way distance of about 106 km (66 miles).

Model III which Bertha Benz used for her journey
By Unknown author – Benz, Carl Friedrich: Lebensfahrt eines deutschen Erfinders. Die Erfindung des Automobils, Erinnerungen eines Achtzigjährigen. Leipzig 1936, S. 155-156. zeno.org, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3180514

The initial goal was to see her mother. But Bertha Benz wanted to prove her husband and the whole world that their invention was not a failure and can be financially success if they could show the world its true colors. Along the way Bertha had to overcome many technical difficulties and she had the chance show her true colors as well. She began her journey with a no extra fuel tank and only about 5 liters of petrol in the carburetor she had to find ligroin, the petroleum solvent needed for the car to run. It was only available at apothecary shops, so she stopped in Wiesloch at the city pharmacy to purchase the fuel. At the time petrol and other fuels could be bought only at the chemists.

She cleaned a blocked fuel line with her hat pin and used her garter as an insulation material. At one point she had to stop her vehicle at a blacksmith to get help to mend a chain. The wheels had wooden brakes. When they started to fail she went to a cobbler and installed a piece of leather to the brake pads. Which was the world’s first brake lining. Also the machine had an evaporating cooling system attached to the engine, therefore Bertha and her sons had to add water throughout the journey. The car had only two gears that was not enough to drag the vehicle upwards in mountainous roads. So Richard and Eugene had to push the car in such places. Bertha reached Pforzheim in the evening and she notified her husband of her journey via a telegram.

Her journey had caught many eyes which led people to be interested in this new vehicle. Also her journey became key to develop many things that was needed such as brake linings, an extra gear to drive in mountainous roads. People from the automobile industry had realized the importance of a “test drive” in automobiles.

In 1906 Benz family moved to their new villa in Ladenburg and Bertha Benz had lived there until her death in 1944. Karl Benz had died in 1929 and after that family members lived their for 30 years. The Benz home now has been designated as historic and is used as a scientific meeting facility for a nonprofit foundation, the Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz Foundation, that honors both Bertha and Karl Benz for their roles in the history of automobiles.

The Benz Villa in Ladenburg
By User:Enslin – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2856238

In 1925 Karl Benz wrote in his memoirs: “Only one person remained with me in the small ship of life when it seemed destined to sink. That was my wife. Bravely and resolutely she set the new sails of hope.”

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