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Bertha Benz

How Bertha Benz Made History for Women Behind the Wheel

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This great adventure started in 1888, two years after Carl Benz invented the automobile (although it was really more of a motorized carriage). His wife Bertha decided to take on the challenge of driving it on its first long-distance trip of around 60 miles through Germany with her two sons.

This would make history as the first real drive in an automobile. And although many today see a 60-mile journey as a regular work commute, since the vehicle only went 10 mph, the journey took a full day.

The car itself was an innovation for its time. It had a one-cylinder, 1.5-horsepower engine with wooden wheels instead of wire spoke wheels and an additional rear-facing seat above the front wheel that allowed for a third passenger.

The journey from Mannheim to Pforzheim was one that would require confidence and skill in both the driver and the automobile, but Bertha was ready for the challenge. During this time, gasoline was sold at the pharmacy, brake pads were only found at the shoe maker’s, and a clogged gas line had to be cleaned with a hat pin. When sections of the road were too steep, the passengers had to get out and push.

Because Bertha and her sons took the car for a ride while Carl Benz was asleep, they had to learn along the way how to navigate the vehicle and refuel it. But they were more than up for the challenge. Once she had made it to the post office, she sent her husband a telegram letting him know of her adventure.

Today, Bertha’s historic drive is commemorated with a memorial route that follows the original one. There is also a “Bertha Benz Drive” for classic automobiles that is held on a regular basis. Bertha’s assertiveness and confidence are forever engraved in history as a moment of victory for automobiles and women behind the wheel.

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