• A woman of strength

    Bertha Benz – more than just the better half

    Bertha Benz

    Bertha Benz – more than just the better half

    History is punctuated by the efforts of women who have made significant contributions to the lives of their famous husbands. One such figure is undoubtedly Bertha Benz, the resolute companion of Karl Benz. She was born Bertha Ringer on 3 May 1849 in Pforzheim and married Karl Benz on 20 July 1872 at the age of 23. Without her strong will and unshakeable belief in the success of her husband, the Benz & Cie. company may never have existed.

    Bertha Benz was always supportive of her husband, encouraging him to keep going when the brilliant inventor and design engineer suffered serious technical setbacks and increasing self-doubt about the direction his work was taking. Her unflinching optimism and ability to find the best solution to difficult situations constantly saw her re-emerge from life’s troughs.

    Even during her engagement to Karl Benz, Bertha made a spontaneous and selfless decision that would prove essential to her husband-to-be. When it emerged that Karl Benz had been manoeuvred into a virtually irrevocable financial situation by a business partner, August Ritter, Bertha Benz offered her dowry to him in advance. Although not a huge amount of money, it was enough to buy out the partner and secure all future decision-making powers for Karl Benz.

  • A woman of action

    His inspiration: her courage and confidence

    Bertha Benz

    His inspiration: her courage and confidence

    Although his work suffered frequent setbacks, Karl Benz was given strength by Bertha’s unshakeable belief in her husband and his invention. On 29 January 1886, he applied for a patent for his three-wheeled "vehicle with gas engine". 

    The success of the company, which shaped the future of personal mobility, can largely be attributed to Bertha Benz. Patent DRP 37435 is recognized today as the birth certificate of the automobile.

    Karl Benz went on to build further, improved versions of his Patent Motor Car. Yet despite a generally enthusiastic reception from the public, the commercial success he craved remained elusive. Once again he became racked with self-doubt – and once again it was his wife who found a way out. She recognised that the general public remained suspicious of the practicality and reliability of this driving machine, which some people saw as powered by "mysterious forces". That’s why Bertha Benz set off on a publicity drive without further ado.

  • The secret journey

    The first woman at the wheel

    Bertha Benz
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    The first woman at the wheel

    It was the plucky Bertha Benz herself who took hold of the steering lever of the Patent Motor Car. She reasoned that the only way to convince the general public of the everyday practicality of the motor car was to prove it to them in practice.

    In the early hours of the morning and without the knowledge of her husband, in August 1888 Bertha Benz set off in Karl’s three-wheeler with the couple’s two sons, Eugen and Richard, on the journey from Mannheim to Pforzheim.

    As darkness fell, the intrepid trio arrived safely at their destination. They then sent Karl a telegram to tell him that they had successfully completed the first long-distance journey in his motor car. News of this sensational event spread like wildfire. Two boys and a woman in a hissing, snarling horseless carriage? It had to be the work of the devil. Yet Bertha Benz had achieved what she had set out to do. The critics were at least won over by the reliability of the Benz Patent Motor Car. Without the courage and commitment of Bertha Benz, the road to automobile success would have been significantly more rocky.

    Karl Benz later wrote in his memoirs, "Only one person stood by me during those times when I was heading towards the abyss. That was my wife. It was her courage that enabled me to find new hope." She passed away on 5 May 1944, two days after celebrating her 95th birthday, in Ladenburg in the state of Baden, where the family finally settled.