The First Overland Automotive Record Was Set by a Woman

The first Mercedes-Benz car had a patent for years before it piqued public interest. Karl Benz, the inventor of the world’s first automobile, spent his days in his workshop working on prototypes. The perfectionist engineer did not believe that his invention was ready.

His wife, however, knew that the horse-less carriage needed to be seen. She decided to manage the marketing end of the business for her husband by taking the car out onto the open road.

A Mercedes-Benz love story

Bertha fell in love with Karl after hearing of the motorwagen that he was in the midst of engineering. In spite of a long list of wealthy suitors, Bertha knew that she wanted Karl Benz to be her lifelong partner. And so she became Bertha Benz.

The couple tirelessly worked together on the motorwagen. She often helped Karl troubleshoot issues throughout the invention process. Not only did she lend her intelligence to the project, but also her inheritance. Bertha financially backed Karl’s innovations until they eventually gleaned public interest and began to turn a profit. But without Bertha’s first journey in 1888, the first car may never have made its grand debut.

Bertha Benz believed in her husband’s invention

Though Karl urged her that the vehicle wasn’t ready for such an expedition, Bertha Benz hit the highway. Keep in mind that in 1888 the highway was an unpaved road with carriage ruts and an array of traffic. At that time, people traveled either on foot, bicycle or by horse.

Most of society and the church were against this horse-less “work of the devil,” and Karl did not believe his invention was ready to be revealed to the public eye. But Bertha Benz was a visionary. She knew that in order to convey to the masses the world-changing machine her husband had created, it needed to be seen.

The first long-distance automobile journey

Dawn broke on an auspicious August morning in 1888. Bertha Benz decided to take things into her own hands and reveal her husband’s genius to the community. She, accompanied by her teenage sons William and Eugen, set out for her parents’ house in Pforzheim. This is about 65 miles away from Mannheim, where the Benz family resided.

She did this without telling her husband, and against all societal and religious standards at the time. Her brazen determination to propel the automobile into the future set the tone for the entire journey.

Benz’s trip in the first car was a difficult road to success

There were many bumps and challenges ahead. The single-cylinder engine required stops at pharmacies for a cleaning solvent called Ligroin, which they used to fuel the motorwagen.

At one point, she decided to take the wooden brakes into a cobbler to fit them with the first leather brake pads. Any problems that arose on that first journey Bertha was able to diagnose and find a solution for the issue. Even when the motorwagen lacked a third gear to go uphill she hopped off into the mud and helped her sons push –– she wasn’t afraid to get her dress dirty.

She used a garter as an insulator to solve an issue with an ignition wire and a hat pin to unclog a blocked fuel line. It took her all day, but she made it over 60 miles overland to visit her parents with William and Eugen.

Bertha was way ahead of her time

Bertha Benz was an innovator, a mechanic, and an imaginative marketer, as well as a loving and supportive wife. In a time when women were excluded from higher education and considered by many valuable only as housewives, Bertha was a businesswoman and an engineer.

Her admiration and belief in the invention she and her husband worked so hard together to create led her to set the first overland automobile record. It was a record set by a woman in a male-dominated social climate, and it was a catalyst for the auto industry that we all love so much. Over 100 years later she was the first woman to be inducted into the automobile hall of fame.

She put the automobile on people’s radar

That fateful journey across Germany put the Patent Benz Motorwagen in the public eye. Her marketing strategy worked exactly as planned and paved the way for what would become the Mercedes-Benz motor company.

Bertha Benz put her husband’s invention on the map. With a little grit and determination, anything is possible.