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Things You Don’t Know About Karl And Bertha Benz, Founders of Mercedes Benz

BERTHA BENZ on the first "commercial " Mercedes Benz | Photo credit: Mercedes Benz
BERTHA BENZ on the first “commercial ” Mercedes Benz | Photo credit: Mercedes Benz
What a man can do, the adage rightly proceed with this controversial conclusion ‘that a woman can do better’.
How true that was with the case of Bertha Benz, the 39-year old wife of German engineer, Karl Benz who made history in August 1888 when she became the first person to complete a long distance trip by automobile. She not only made that by her epoch making journey, but also used that to save her husband from both professional and financial ruin as we shall later see from this motivational article.

Who was Bertha Benz and what do we stand to learn from her especially the women folk? Bertha Benz was a daughter of a well to do family in the southwest Germany town of Pforzeim. Proving herself as a supportive wife even before their wedding in 1872, she had used part of her dowry to rescue her yet to be husband, Karl Benz from failing iron construction company that he had launched with some business partner who did not share his dreams.

When the business did not really turn out to be what he had envisaged, Benz moved on with the continued supports of Bertha together with his own never say die spirit of a business man that he was and formed a new manufacturing company called Benz & Cie.

Carl and Bertha Benz, daughter Klara and Fritz Held, on an excursion in 1894 | Photo credit: Mercedes Benz

He moved from there to discover his life long dream of creating the first true automobile after several years of failed attempts. History had it that Karl finished work on his first horseless carriage in December 1885 and received a patent for his work the following year.

The car was a single cylinder 2.5-horsepower with three wheels just like the present day rickshaw and could reach a maximum speed of 25 mph. It was true that the first few displays of this new invention didn’t go without some terrifying experiences when one of the drivers lost control and crashed into a wall thereby putting some fears into the onlookers.

Whichever way, the man behind it all, Karl Benz continued to improve with each passing experience. But while all these were going on, one thing continued to give Mrs Benz some serious concern. Her husband was just satisfied in producing more and more of the vehicle without doing much to have it exposed at least for others to see. Frustrated by her husband’s approach to this, Bertha took matters into her hand.


In early August 1888, Bertha packed up one of the husband’s cars and with her two teenage sons, set out to visit her mother in Pforzheim. She did not made this known to her husband but instead left him a letter informing him of her plans. With her two sons she embarked on the journey which turned out to be a really rough experience but she never mind-acting as both driver and mechanic along the way.

When she ran low of fuel, she searched out a local pharmacy that deals on ligroin, the petroleum solvent used to run the Benz cars. Along the way she also had to deal with ignition failures, fuel clogged, and brake failures. Interestingly Bertha was even credited with devising the world’s first pair of brake pads. When the car’s wooden brakes began to fail, she contacted a local shoemaker to install leather soles in the place of wood.

Finally she reached her mother’s place around dusk, having covered over 65 miles in 12 hours. The news of their journey went round the country courtesy of the eyewitnesses and the press even before the husband got a telegram from her informing him of their safe arrival. Most expressed amazement at Karl Benz’s achievement and how safe it seemed to be, although others were reportedly terrified of the sudden appearance of the automobile in their midst, one driven by a woman!  While the publicity was certainly nice, there was a more practical upshot to Bertha Benz’s road trip. The difficulties she and her sons faced getting Karl’s 2.5-horse-powered car up neighboring hills  despite all the challenges she faced, convinced the inventor to make a crucial modification: the introduction of the world’s first gear system.

After visiting with her mother for several days, Bertha set out for her return trip, this time around following a different route and with her inner goal in mind,  introducing her husband’s automobile to even more people. In all, she had driven over 120 miles at a time when no other automobile had traveled more than a few dozen feet. Her trip opened up her husband’s innovation  and the couple began receiving orders for wonders on wheel immediately. Within a decade Karl’s company, Benz & Cie., became the world’s largest automobile company with a full-time staff of more than 400 and annual sales of nearly 600 vehicles.

Karl died in 1929. While the Benz family remained on the company’s board, they also started another automobile business, Benz Sonz, in 1906. Karl and Bertha, along with sons Eugen and Richard, who had accompanied their mother on her history-making 1888 trip, formed the new company, which remained family-owned until it closed its doors in 1924. Bertha Benz died 20 years later at the age of 95.

What a woman of courage and indeed a wise one at that when it comes to devising strategies for making things happen in one’s family or even in a community.  Certainly, the women has a lot to learn from this.


Written by PH

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