Bertha Ringer, circa 1871, as she became Karl Benz's business partner.
3 May 1849
Pforzheim, Grand Duchy of Baden, German Confederation
|Died||5 May 1944
|Known for||First person to drive an automobile over a long distance.|
|Spouse(s)||Karl Benz (m. 1872; his death)|
Bertha Benz (help·info) (née Ringer, 3 May 1849 – 5 May 1944) was a German automotive pioneer. She was the wife and business partner of automobile inventor Karl Benz. In 1888, she was the first person to drive an automobile over a long distance. In doing so, she brought the Benz Patent-Motorwagen worldwide attention and got the company its first sales.
Early life and marriage
Two years before her marriage to Karl Benz, she used part of her dowry to invest in his failing iron construction company. As an unmarried woman, she was able to do so; after she married Benz, according to German law, Bertha lost her legal power to act as an investor. On 20 July 1872, Bertha Ringer married Karl Benz. As he moved on to a new manufacturing venture, Benz & Cie, he continued to use her dowry as financial support. He finished his work on his first horseless carriage in December 1885. Although Bertha financed the development process, and would hold patent rights under modern law, as a married woman she was not allowed to apply for the patent.
Together they had five children: Eugen (1873), Richard (1874), Clara (1877), Thilde (1882), and Ellen (1890).
First cross-country automobile journey
In August 1888, without telling her husband and without permission of the authorities, Benz drove with her sons Richard and Eugen, thirteen and fifteen years old, in the newly constructed Patent Motorwagen automobile—from Mannheim to Pforzheim—becoming the first person to drive an automobile over a real distance. Motorized drives before this historic trip were merely very short trial drives, returning to the point of origin, made with mechanical assistants. Following wagon tracks, this pioneering tour had a one-way distance of about 106 km (66 mi).
Although the ostensible purpose of the trip was to visit her mother, Bertha Benz had other motives: to prove to her husband—who had failed to consider marketing his invention adequately—that the automobile they both heavily invested in would become a financial success once it was shown to be useful to the general public; and to give her husband the confidence that his constructions had a future.
She left Mannheim around dawn, solving numerous problems along the way. Bertha demonstrated her significant technical capabilities on this journey. With no fuel tank and only a 4.5-litre supply 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 only be bought from chemists and so this is how the chemist in Wiesloch became the first fuel station in the world.
She even cleaned a blocked fuel line with her hat pin and used her garter as isolation material. A blacksmith had to help mend a chain at one point. When the wooden brakes began to fail Benz visited a cobbler to install leather, making the world's first pair of brake pads. The thermosiphon system was employed to cool the engine, making water supply a big worry along the trip. The trio added water to their supply every time they stopped. The car's two gears were not enough to surmount uphill inclines and Eugen and Richard often had to push the vehicle. Benz reached Pforzheim somewhat after dusk, notifying her husband of her successful journey by telegram. She drove back to Mannheim several days later.
Along the way, several people were frightened by the automobile. Some even thought that two young boys and a woman on a hissing, thumping horseless carriage could only be the work of the Devil himself. The novel trip received a great deal of publicity, as she had sought. The drive was a key event in the technical development of the automobile. The pioneering couple introduced several improvements after Bertha's experiences. She reported everything that had happened along the way and made important suggestions, such as the introduction of an additional gear for climbing hills and brake linings to improve brake-power. Her trip proved to the burgeoning automotive industry that test drives were essential to their business.
The Patent Motor Car
In 1886, Benz presented the Patent Motor Car to the world. Within the decade, 25 vehicles had been built. With cutting-edge bicycle constructions, the Model I was the original Patent Motor Car and the world's first automobile.
The Model II was converted to a four-wheeler for test purposes, making it the only one of this model.
The first Patent Motor Car sold in small production runs was the Model III. It had powered rear wheels with a ringed steel and solid rubber, steerable front wheel. Various options were provided for customers to choose from, such as seat arrangements and a folding top.
In 1944, on her 95th birthday, Bertha Benz was honoured with the title Honourable Senator, by the Technical University of Karlsruhe. This is her husband's alma mater and they had awarded an honorary doctorate degree to him in his lifetime. Two days later, Bertha Benz died in her villa in Ladenburg, where the workshop of Karl Benz had been built after they had moved there in 1906 and he established a solely family-held business, Benz and Sons. Karl Benz later wrote the following 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."
In 2008, the Bertha Benz Memorial Route  was officially approved as a route of the industrial heritage of mankind, because it follows Bertha Benz's path during the world's first long-distance journey by automobile in 1888. Now it is possible to follow the 194 km of signs indicating her route from Mannheim via Heidelberg to Pforzheim (Black Forest) and back.
The Bertha Benz Challenge, embedded in the framework of the ceremony of Automobile Summer 2011, the big official German event and birthday party commemorating the invention of the automobile by Karl Benz 125 years ago, took place on Bertha Benz Memorial Route on 10 and 11 September 2011. It was a globally visible signal for new automobile breakthroughs, and was only open for sustainable mobility: future-oriented vehicles with alternative drive systems – hybrid and electric, hydrogen and fuel cell vehicles – and other extremely economical vehicles. The motto is: Bertha Benz Challenge – Sustainable Mobility on the World's Oldest Automobile Road!.
On 25 January 2011 Deutsche Welle (DW-TV) broadcast worldwide in its series, Made in Germany, a TV documentary on the invention of the automobile by Karl Benz, highlighting the very important role of his wife, Bertha Benz. The report is not only on the history of the automobile, but takes a look at its future as well, shown by the Bertha Benz Challenge on 10 and 11 September 2011.
In 2011, a television movie about the life of Karl and Bertha Benz was made named Karl & Bertha which premiered on 11 May and was aired by Das Erste on 23 May. A trailer of the movie and a "making of" special were released on YouTube.
- Robertson, Patrick (2011), Robertson's Book of Firsts: Who Did What for the First Time, Bloomsbury Publishing USA, p. 91, ISBN 9781608197385, retrieved 28 May 2015
- "Bertha Benz Hits the Road, 125 Years Ago – History in the Headlines". HISTORY.com. Retrieved 2015-10-13.
- Angela Elis. "Bertha Benz: die erste Frau am Steuer". Cicero. Retrieved January 2011. Check date values in:
- "Frauen in der Geschichte des Rechts — Von der Frühen Neuzeit bis zum Gegenwart", Ute Gerhard e.a., Beck'se Verlagsbuchhandlung, München 1997, ISBN 3-406-42866-5, Pag 464
- stefanhock. "Motorradtour Mannheim – Bertha Benz Memorial Route Hinfahrt – GPSies". GPSies.com.
- Tweney, Dylan (2010-08-12). "Aug. 12, 1888: Road Trip! Berta Takes the Benz". WIRED. Retrieved 2015-10-13.
- "Bertha Benz – Die Starke". Mercedes-Benz. Retrieved January 2011. Check date values in:
- stefanhock. "Motorradtour Pforzheim – Bertha Benz Memorial Route Rückfahrt – GPSies". GPSies.com.
- e.V., Deutsche Zentrale für Tourismus. "Bertha Benz: historys first driver". www.germany.travel. Retrieved 2016-06-26.
- "August 1888: Bertha Benz takes world’s first long-distance trip in an automobile | Daimler Global Media Site > Classic > Mercedes-Benz Cars > Mercedes-Benz Passenger Cars > Benz until 1926". media.daimler.com. Retrieved 2015-10-13.
- "Bertha Benz.". www.mercedes-benz.com. Retrieved 2016-06-26.
- Bertha Benz Memorial Route (German-government-approved non-profit official site)
- The history of the Automobile includes the Bertha Benz Challenge, watch minutes 01:40 to 05:42 of the complete report (26:22 minutes). Archived February 2, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
- "Aktuell – Bertha-Benz-Challenge Offen nur für Elektroautos und zukunftsgerechte Fahrzeuge.". www.bertha-benz-challenge.de. Retrieved 2015-10-13.
- on YouTube
- Genialer Tüftler und bedingungslose Unterstützerin, SWR
- "Carl & Bertha (TV Movie 2011)". IMDb. 25 May 2011.
- ARD-Themenwoche "Der mobile Mensch" Karl & Bertha (English: "The mobile man" Karl & Bertha), ARD
- (in German) on YouTube (English: Carl & Bertha – a love of the automobile)
- on YouTube
- Angela Elis (2010), Mein Traum ist länger als die Nacht. Wie Bertha Benz ihren Mann zu Weltruhm fuhr [My dream is longer than the night. How Bertha Benz drove her husband to world fame.] (in German), Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe, ISBN 978-3-455-50146-9
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