Bertha Benz

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Bertha Ringer, c. 1871, as she became Karl Benz's businesspartner

About this sound Bertha Benz  (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 1886, 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.


The Benz Patent-Motorwagen Number 3 of 1886, used by Bertha Benz for the highly publicized first long distance road trip, 106 km (66 mi), by automobile.

Bertha Ringer was born in 1849 in Pforzheim, Grand Duchy of Baden. In 1871, she invested in the workshop of her fiancé, Karl Benz, enabling him to develop the first patented automobile.[1] As an unmarried woman, she was able to do so; after she married Benz, according to the law in those days, Bertha lost her juridical power to act as an investor.[2]

On 20 July 1872, Bertha Ringer married Karl Benz. Together they had five children: Eugen (1873), Richard (1874), Clara (1877), Thilde (1882), and Ellen (1890).

First cross-country automobile journey[edit]

In August 1886, without telling her husband and without permission of the authorities, Benz drove with her sons Richard and Eugen, thirteen and fifteen years old, in one of the newly constructed Patent Motorwagen automobiles—from Mannheim to Pforzheim—becoming the first person to drive an automobile over a real distance.[3] Motorized drives before this historic trip were merely very short trial drives, returning to the point of origin, made with mechanical assistants. This pioneering tour had a one-way distance of about 106 km (66 mi).[4]

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.[5]

Karl and Bertha Benz c. 1914 - Zenodot Verlagsges. mbH

On the way, she solved numerous problems. She had to find ligroin as a fuel; this was available only at apothecary shops, so she stopped in Wiesloch at the city pharmacy to purchase the fuel. A blacksmith had to help mend a chain at one point. The brakes needed to be repaired and, in doing so, Bertha Benz invented brake lining.[6] She also had to use a long, straight hatpin to clean a fuel pipe, which had become blocked. She left Mannheim around dawn and reached Pforzheim somewhat after dusk, notifying her husband of her successful journey by telegram. She drove back to Mannheim the next day.[7]

Bertha Benz at age 18

Along the way, several people were frightened by the automobile and 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.[citation needed]

Later life[edit]

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.


Official signpost of Bertha Benz Memorial Route
Map of Germany with the Bertha Benz Memorial Route, from Mannheim via Heidelberg and Wiesloch to Pforzheim and back - official heritage path commemorating her journey of 1888
Bertha Benz monument in Wiesloch where she made a stop to take in fuel at the city pharmacy, which is now dubbed "the first filling station in the world"
  • In 2008, the Bertha Benz Memorial Route [8] 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, will take place on Bertha Benz Memorial Route on 10 and 11 September 2011. It will be a globally visible signal for a new automobile breakthrough, as it will only be 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 will be: 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.[9]
  • The documentary The Car is Born produced by Ulli Kampelmann centered around the first road trip by Bertha Benz.[10]
  • In 2011, a television movie about the life of Karl and Bertha Benz was made named Karl & Bertha which premiered on 11 May[11] and was aired by Das Erste on 23 May.[12][13] A trailer of the movie[14] and a "making of" special were released on YouTube.[15]



Last home of Karl and Bertha Benz, now the location of the Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz Foundation in Ladenburg, in Baden-Württemberg


  • Angela Elis: Mein Traum ist länger als die Nacht. Wie Bertha Benz ihren Mann zu Weltruhm fuhr. Hoffmann und Campe, Hamburg 2010, ISBN 978-3-455-50146-9.

External links[edit]