Mercedes Benz: B like Bertha

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© By Sheila 

Germany, 1888. The world was a different one, driven by horsepower and the sound of horseshoes. Carriages and horse taxis filled the streets- with noises and smell. With the growth of cities and the number of carriages a new crisis arose- the horse shit crisis. That’s right. Had it not been for the invention of the car, every street in London would have been buried under three meters of horse shit according to the Times’ forecast for 1940. What many don’t know: We owe the fact that cars have prevailed largely to a woman, Bertha Benz.

Can you imagine a world without cars? Back in those days, the question was rather the opposite. Like most innovations, the car was initially rejected. Bertha Benz was what we call Business Angel in the start-up scene today. An angel with vision, courage and an advocate for progress. With money. Thanks to that, Bertha Benz made her husband’s invention come true. She demanded the early payout of her dowry and financed the first prototypes of Carl Benz’ car. But just as modern investors in the start-up scene, Bertha Benz supported her husband with much more than money.

Black and white portrait of Bertha Benz, 1870.
Bertha Benz, 1870. Picture used with kind permission of Mercedes-Benz Classic. Source: Mercedes-Benz Classic

She lent a hand in the workshop, helped with troubleshooting and above all, despite the most adverse circumstances, criticism and ridicule, she never gave up believing in Carl’s idea. Carl Benz, ingenious inventor and husband of Bertha Benz, had already filed a ground-breaking patent in 1886. Still, nobody was interested in buying a self- driving vehicle. The situation got worse, and so Bertha Benz decided to take the step, that finally made Carl Benz’s technology popular.

One of the first models of a self- driving vehicle: The Benz Patent- Motorwagen. Used with kind permission of Mercedes- Benz Classic. Source: Mercedes- Benz Classic.

Back to 1888. Previously, customers had denied the purchase of the finished “Benz Patent Motor Car Number 3”. The skepticism about progress was deep and the social rejection of a car without horses even bigger. Carl Benz, on the other side, did as a perfectionist not trust the car to perform in public. The situation of the Benz family became more and more precarious. So Bertha stepped in. Without the knowing of her husband, she started the car and drove adventurous 106 km from Mannheim to Pforzheim and back.

Contemporary illustration, 1888. Bertha Benz with her sons Eugen and Richard, during the long-distance trip from Mannheim to Pforzheim in the Benz patent motor car.
Bertha Benz with her sons Eugen and Richard, during the trip from Mannheim to Pforzheim. Contemporary illustration, 1888. Used with kind permission of Mercedes- Benz Classic. Source: Mercedes- Benz Classic.

Problems on the way were solved pragmatically: Bertha cleaned a clogged gasoline line with her hatpin. She isolated the ignition, scandalously, with her garter. And since wooden blocks seemed too laborious to stop the car to her, she quickly invented the brake pads. When Bertha Benz ran out of fuel, she incidentally founded the “oldest gas station in the world”: The city pharmacy in Wiesloch. There, she bought the necessary ligroin. Pharmacies should remain the filling stations of the world up until the 20th century.

Bertha Benz and Carl Benz in 1894. Picture used with kind permission of Mercedes-Benz Classic. Source: Mercedes-Benz Classic
Bertha Benz and Carl Benz in 1894. Picture used with kind permission of Mercedes-Benz Classic. Source: Mercedes-Benz Classic

After Berthas Benz’s daredevil ride and the public’s enthusiasm about it, success finally arrived in the house of Benz. Bertha and Carl Benz became founders of a brand, an industry and a modernity, that has been preserved to this day.

Bertha Benz, on the occasion of her 90th birthday, on May 3, 1939. Picture used with kind permission of Mercedes-Benz Classic. Source: Mercedes-Benz Classic

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