The car was co-invented by a woman, Bertha Benz but patent laws wouldn't recognize her work

Hans · Mar 9, 2021 11:44 AM

The car was co-invented by a woman, Bertha Benz but patent laws wouldn't recognize her work 01

History recognized Carl Benz as the inventor of the modern car but we won't have the modern car if not for a woman, who in today's world, would've been recognized as a co-inventor, rather than merely the wife of the inventor.

The only reason Carl Benz was solely credited for the invention of the car was simply because German patent laws at that time didn’t allow women to register any patents.

Berlin’s Imperial Patent Office only granted Mr. Carl Benz of the Benz & Co. company in Mannheim as owner of patent number DRP 37435, which regarded the Benz Patent Motorwagen 1886 as the world’s first modern car – a self-powered carriage driven by an internal combustion engine.

The car was co-invented by a woman, Bertha Benz but patent laws wouldn't recognize her work 01

In truth, the invention of the automobile was the work of both Carl Benz and his wife Bertha. The Benz & Co. company was funded by his wife’s dowry. In modern terms, Bertha was the venture capitalist who funded the Benz start-up.

Right from the beginning, Bertha worked with her husband Carl to design the 1886 Benz Patent Motorwagen’s rudimentary 2.0-litre single-cylinder 0.75 horsepower four-stroke engine.

She wasn't just the money-woman. There was enough evidence to suggest that Bertha was every bit an engineer of her husband's calibre.

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A replica of the 1886 Benz Patent Motorwagen at the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart

Historical documents proved that she made multiple improvements to the car’s design during its maiden test drive. This wouldn't have been possible unless she was deeply involved in the development of the car.

The original male-centric narrative of Carl Benz as the inventor of the automobile, written by men of course, is now being revised to post-humously grant Bertha the credit due to her.

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Carl was a brilliant engineer but his skills were limited only to the workshop. Despite lacking in education, Bertha instinctively understood the need for field trials before improvements can be made, and repeating the same work in the same workshop won’t bring any results.

She was also a better business person, having funded Benz & Co.

The conservative society of that era were terrified by the idea of a self-powered car. People are naturally scared of what they don't understand and as a result, Carl was ridiculed for building a ‘devil’s carriage’ (society back believed that only the devil / black magic can move a carriage without a horse). Carl became depressed and withdrew himself from the public.

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Fed up with her husband’s fear to push further, Bertha decided to conduct the world’s first test drive on her own. Since women back then were not allowed to travel unaccompanied by men, she woke her sons, Richard and Eugen up in one early morning of August 1888, and went on a 180 km (106 km there, 70 km back) return trip to her mother’s home in Pforzheim.

Of course the car broke down many times, and each time she did roadside repairs on her own, and along the way, had upgrades fitted to it – like having a cobbler install leather linings on her car’s wooden brakes, thus inventing the world’s first brake pad.

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The rudimentary ignition system also gave problems, which she traced to poor insulating materials used on the ignition wire, which she fixed with her garter. The engine also stalled often, which she traced to bad fuel lines, which she unclogged with her hair pin. The engine also often overheated as the water in the cooling system evaporated too quickly.

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The pharmacy in Wiesloch where she stopped to buy 10 litres of “Ligroin” became the world’s first ‘petrol station.’

All these actions proved that she was indeed the co-inventor of the car. After a 12-hour journey, Bertha sent a telegram to tell Carl telling him that his invention worked well enough and that it just needed a few more upgrades. She returned to Mannheim with the car a few days later, taking a shorter route.

With results from her test drive, Carl installed a 2-speed transmission and better brakes. A total of 25 units of the 1886 Benz Patent Motorwagen were built.

Her life and work with Carl Benz became the subject of a German movie Carl und Bertha Benz (above).

Key moments were:

42:00 starting of Benz two-stroke engine

1:00:00 first test drive (which failed)

1:12:00 Carl wanted to give up, Bertha decided to take over herself

The car was co-invented by a woman, Bertha Benz but patent laws wouldn't recognize her work 07

Bertha passed away in 1944. She would be proud to know that today, Mercedes-Benz is one of the most progressive companies in the automotive industry, having one of the most female representation for any company listed on Germany’s DAX.

Closer to home, women fill up 39 percent of leadership positions at Mercedes-Benz Malaysia, one of the highest for any car company here. 

The company's She's Mercedes platform is the only one of its kind by a leading car company to connect, inspire and empower women worldwide.

Two years ago, Mercedes-Benz partnered with toy-maker Matchbox to encourage girls to play with cars. Nice!

For this International Women's Day, we want to tell our daughters, wives, and mothers that they can achieve whatever they set their minds to, just like Bertha Benz did 142 years ago.

Hans

Head of Content

Over 15 years of experience in automotive, from product planning, to market research, to print and digital media. Garages a 6-cylinder manual RWD but buses to work.

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