Bertha Benz’s Historic Car Ride

In the early morning hours of August 5, 1888, 39-year-old Bertha Benz, wife of automobile pioneer Karl Benz, left the house, and without her husband’s knowledge, drove them across the street in an automobile. Husband invented it. He was accompanied by his two teenage sons, Richard and Eugene, aged thirteen and fifteen, respectively, on the 66-mile journey. The goal of this historic trip was to prove to her husband that her invention was worthy of the trip and to encourage him to market his invention as such. Thanks to Bertha Benz, Karl Benz is often credited with inventing the automobile.

Actors posing as Bertha Benz and her sons Eugene and Richard push their car in a recreated scene of the 1888 long-distance journey from Mannheim to Pforzheim with the Benz patent motor car. Photo: Daimler

Bertha Benz took an active part in her husband’s business. Before Carl and Bertha were married, Bertha used part of her dowry to invest in her failed ironworks company. When Carl moved to a new manufacturing venture, Bertha continued to finance her husband’s investments. Although Karl was a brilliant engineer, he was not much of a businessman. In 1885, Karl completed work on his first automobile, the Motorwagen—a tricycle powered by a 954cc single-cylinder four-stroke engine that produced 500 watts at 250 rpm. It is considered to be the world’s first automobile. Carl unveiled his invention to the public in July 1886.

The public’s reaction to Carl’s invention was disappointingly lukewarm, and this bothered Bertha more than Carl. Carl responded by creating two more improved models—the Model Number 2 was powered by a 1.5 hp engine, and the Model Number 3 had a 2 hp engine, allowing the vehicle to reach a maximum speed of about 10 mph. Karl also improved the chassis. They added wooden spoked wheels, a fuel tank and a manual leather shoe brake at the rear.

Bertha Benz at the age of 18.

Bertha Benz at the age of 18.

Meanwhile Bertha was getting restless. “Karl, the perfectionist, was trying to make everything right before he took the next step,” wrote John Leonhard. engines of our ingenuity, “Bertha knew full well that we couldn’t perfect a design before field-testing it. And she trusted Carl’s auto more than she did.

So he made a plan. One August morning, while Carl was still sleeping, Bertha with her two sons left the house and walked cautiously towards the factory. He quietly pushed the car out of the workshop and started it only after much noise. The story goes that Bertha left a note on the kitchen table for Karl, saying that they were going to visit their mother in Pforzheim. He didn’t mention the motor car, and Carl assumes he took the train. It was only later in the day that he realized what his wife had done when he saw that his vehicle was missing.

It is not known how Karl Benz reacted to his wife’s petty offense, but it is safe to assume that he may have been a little worried. The journey to Pforzheim was usually done on wagons, and there were many sections on the road that were unsuitable for automobiles. Bertha herself was not sure of the route. She knew she had to stick to the places and roads they knew and initially headed to Weinheim. From Wenheim, they headed south, towards Wesloch. The source of great concern was gasoline. There was no gas tank in the car. Instead, the entire 4.5-liter supply was stored in the carburetor, allowing gasoline fumes to be sucked into the engine for ignition. In those days, gasoline was sold in apothecaries under the name “ligorin” as a cleaning agent. Bertha loaded her car during her journey at Wiesloch, and then at Langenbrücken and Brüxel.

Benz Patent-Motorwagen No. 3

Benz Patent-Motorwagon No. 3 of 1886, was used by Bertha Benz for the first long-distance road trip by automobile.

Keeping the engine cool was another concern. The engines were cooled using an evaporative cooling system, and all three added water to their supply at every opportunity – from public houses, from rivers and even from roadside ditches.

From Wiesloch, the journey continued through Bruchsal and Durlach, where it turned east, through the Rhine valley and into the hills. The automobile’s low 2 hp engine was not enough to cope with the large gradients, and Bertha and her sons had to reach out to push the vehicle uphill. When driving downhill, the wooden shoe brakes, which were operated by hand using a lever on the side of the vehicle and acted on both rear wheels, wore out quickly, and Bertha needed a cobbler to apply the leather brakes. had to go to the world’s first pair. brake linings. When a fuel line became blocked, he used his cap pin to open it, and when the insulation on the ignition wire corroded, he used his garter as insulation material. Thankfully there were no punctures as the rear wheels had iron rings and the front wheel was covered with solid rubber.

Bertha and her sons arrived in Pforzheim in the evening, tired but happy. He quickly telegramed Carl and informed him of his safe arrival. A few days later, the passengers began their return journey to Mannheim. This time, the route was shorter and ran in almost a straight line through Boschlot, Breton, Bruchsal, Hockenheim and Schwetzingen to Mannheim.

The town pharmacy in Wiesloch, where Bertha Benz filled her car, is now known as "world's first filling station",

The town’s pharmacy in Wiesloch, where Bertha Benz filled her car, is now called “the world’s first filling station”. Photo: Rudolf Stryker/Wikimedia Commons

By completing the first long-distance journey in automotive history, Bertha Benz proved to her husband and many skeptics that the automobile had a great future ahead. It also demonstrated that testing new automobiles in difficult conditions was a necessary step for automobile development. After this iteration, Carl made several improvements to the design, such as new brake linings and adding lower gears for climbing. Shortly after Karl unveiled the new motor car in Munich, the crowd dazzled. within ten years Benz & C had become the world’s largest automobile company, “because Bertha Benz had the courage to make a great leap forward for mankind.”

In 1925, Karl Benz wrote of his wife in his memoirs: “Only one man remained with me in the little ship of life, when it seemed destined to sink. She was my wife. She showed bravery and determination. A new sail of hope was set with

# “August 1888: Bertha Benz travels the world’s first long distance in an automobile”, Daimler
#John H. Leonhard, “Bertha Benz’s Ride”, engines of our ingenuity
#bertha benz, Wikipedia

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