The Woman Behind the Benz
How Bertha Benz helped finance one of the best car companies
“Two young boys and a woman on a hissing, thumping horseless carriage could only be the work of the Devil himself.” This is what people had to say when they saw Bertha Benz swish past them along with her teenage sons.
Bertha Ringer could have been the name under whom the first Benz car would have been patented were it not for the German laws. Back then, in 1888, once a woman got married in Germany she lost many rights. In Bertha’s case, she couldn’t invest or apply for a patent.
Before her marriage to Carl Benz, Bertha had used a part of her dowry to invest in a construction business. Being a spinster, she was allowed to do so. After 20th July, 1972 the day she married Carl, along with her surname, Bertha also lost her rights. Bertha, a rich carpenter’s daughter had not only married against the will of her parents but also convinced them to let the dowry of 4,244 gulden (approx.Rs.15,98,792.65) be given to Carl 2 years before their marriage!
Carl Benz was designing an automobile. Bertha had helped finance Benz and Co., as the company was called back then, with her dowry. In 1877 hard times struck. The German government did not like the automative Carl Benz had designed and they confiscated most of the items in his workshop and auctioned them off. He was left with nothing. Yet Bertha was strong and believed in her husband. It is said that he wouldn’t have revived from this shock if it wasn’t for her.
A few years after that, Carl patented the automotive he had built a year ago in 1886 but was unsure about showing his creation to the world. He was a perfectionist by nature. On the other hand, Bertha was of the firm opinion that her husband had to spread the knowledge of his automobile. She thus, took matters in her own hands.
A woman had to be docile and timid in order to fit into society almost 129 years ago. So what would be more outrageous than a woman swooshing past on a three wheeled vehicle which was not drawn by a horse?
Almost nearing dawn, on 5th August 1888 Bertha took the car out and decided to drive down to her mother’s place. Her two eldest children, Eugen (15 years) and Richard (13 years) accompanied her. The journey though wasn’t a smooth ride and along the way, Bertha pioneered many things in the automobile industry to make the Benz we see today.
The first Benz vehicle looked similar to that of a carriage but it had a tank of 4.5 litres of petrol instead of a horse. The car was called Patent Motorwagen. Bertha took it along for a ride spanning about 106 km from Mannheim to Pforzheim in Germany. She was the first person ever to actually go on a car journey. And you must remember, there were no long trials ever done with the Patent Motorwagen. Thus, this journey was highly risky.
Firstly, the car had a 4.5 litre supply of ligroin, the solvent used to fuel the car. Ligroin was only available with the chemists. Thus, along the way many pharmacy stores acted as fuelling stations for them!
Once a blacksmith had to mend a broken chain and a cobbler had to mend a wooden brake. Bertha approached the cobbler for leather and designed the first brake pads. She also used her garter to isolate a worn-through ignition cable and a hairpin to unblock a fuel line! Then came the problem of the engine repeatedly heating up. So every now and then the family had to stop and get water supplies. And then finally came the problem of a steep climb. The Motorwagen couldn’t do it. Eugen and Richard had to push the car all the way up!
At the end, Bertha and her sons reached her mother almost after dusk only to find that she had gone off for a vacation! Never mind that though, because her trip had been highly successful. She had learned so much. Bertha then sent a letter to her husband informing him of a safe arrival and also about the problem they had while climbing the hill.
And wonder of wonders, it had also conveniently skipped Bertha’s mind to inform her husband that she would indeed be making the journey to her mother but along with their automative! So it must have been a surprise for him when he found the car missing from his garage!
This did it for him. One trip from her showed him the confidence she had in his work. It indeed was a huge risk to take their sons along but she did it anyway. Carl wasn’t angered by his wife’s actions but continued his work with more vigour.
Such was the woman who got the Benz to us.
In 1926, Benz and Co. merged with Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft who were also pioneers in the industry with their car Mercedes. You can only guess what happened next….
Bertha Benz was a great woman who literally cleared the way for my great-grandfather. And not only by her adventurous and daring journey to Pforzheim. At the time, Carl had a driving ban because the car was considered too dangerous for the authorities at that time, and always the horses had passed when the patent motor car came around the corner. The tricycle is not as loud and eerie as people always say. Bertha supported Carl much earlier. She married him against the will of her father; And financed her work with her pre-paid legacy. Besides, she took care of the family and denied everyday life, while her husband had nothing but his car in his head. “
( Great Granddaughter of Bertha and Carl Benz)
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This is a special blog celebrating our third woman on the third day of Navratri. We’ll be sharing the inspirational life stories of 9 women in 9 days so stay tuned.
Bertha Benz is our 3rd Inspirational Woman.
Coco Chanel was our first. Read here.
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