Thanks to the absolute confidence of Bertha Benz in her husband and his invention, Carl Benz continued his work regardless of repeated setbacks. On January 29, 1886 his efforts were crowned with success: Carl Benz filed a patent application for his three-wheeled “vehicle powered by a gas engine”. Bertha Benz made a very large contribution to this major advance in personal mobility. Patent specification DRP 37435 is seen as the birth certificate of the automobile.
Carl Benz built further versions of his Patent Motor Car with detailed improvements. Although its invention had been mainly received with enthusiasm by the public, this was not accompanied by the desired commercial success, however. Benz was once again beset by doubts. And once again it was his wife who found a way out. She realized that the public were still sceptical about the reliability of this vehicle moved by 'mysterious forces'. So Bertha Benz found the answer: the first publicity tour.
Bertha Benz resolutely took the driving seat of the Patent Motor Car herself. She was convinced that the day-to-day reliability of the new vehicle needed to be physically demonstrated to the public. Without her husband’s knowledge, Bertha Benz therefore embarked on a publicity tour in the early hours of an August day in 1888. Accompanied by her two sons Eugen (15) and Richard (14), she drove one of her husband’s three-wheelers from Mannheim to Pforzheim. When dusk fell this intrepid trio had reached its destination without incident. She informed Carl Benz by telegram that the first long-distance journey with his Patent Motor Car had been a success. News of this sensational event spread like wildfire: two young boys and a woman on a hissing, thumping horseless carriage – this could only be the work of the Devil himself, some said.
But Bertha Benz had achieved what she set out to do: the critics had at least been silenced where reliability was concerned, and everybody was talking about the Benz Patent Motor Car. Without the commitment and resolution of Bertha Benz, the automobile would undoubtedly have had a slightly more difficult journey into the future. Karl Benz later wrote the following in his memoirs: 'Only one person remained with me in the small ship of life when it seemed destined to sink. That was my wife. Bravely and resolutely she set the new sails of hope.' On May 5, 1944, two days after her 95th birthday, Bertha Benz died in Ladenburg, the family’s last place of residence.
“As the role of a wife was in the late 1800s, she also had to take care of the family, raise five children, do all the housekeeping, cooking etc. Thus, it was as twice as much she accomplished compared to a man. So if I may say so, it’s about time that Bertha Benz becomes inducted to the hall of fame – 32 years after Carl and 135 years after her achievements. For me personally it is of great satisfaction that my great grandmother is being honored now.”
Bertha Benz enabled her husband Carl Benz to run his own company and pursue his invention by providing the financial basis to do so. She invested both her inheritance from her parents and her personality to make a technological breakthrough possible. That also needed a good understanding and a clear vision of the importance of her husband’s work, as she wanted this vision to become reality. It’s easy to imagine that Bertha had a very strong personality, as she most certainly was not only the “important wife behind an important husband.” Bertha was actually pushing him to trust in his abilities to make his vision come true, to get through hard times, and to try harder each time.
“My great grandmother always was of great importance to me. The role she played in making her husband’s invention become reality always used to be an important topic in our family. And personally, I was – and still am – putting a lot of efforts into helping to communicate that it needed Bertha Benz to make all this happen,” said Jutta Benz, great-granddaughter of Bertha and Carl Benz.
Until now, Mrs. Benz has been most famous for her legendary role as the first person to take long-distance automotive road trip, traveling from Mannheim to Pforzheim in August 1888 with her two sons Richard and Eugen, unbeknownst to her husband. What is today about an hour’s drive (100 km or about 60 miles) took much longer during that era.
According to her great-granddaughter Jutta Benz, the road trip was very brave, too, since she didn’t prepare the drive to ensure that her husband wasn’t aware of it. If a problem occurred, she fixed it. She stopped at a pharmacy in Wiesloch which became the first gas station of the world to buy “Ligroin,” a cleaning fluid that kept the car running.
Another stop included a shoemaker shop to have him repair the leather on a brake shoe. The pin of her hat was used to clean a clogged fuel line, and she resolved a problem of an ignition wire by using her garter as an insulator. That also proves that she had certain knowledge of the technology how the patent motor car was being operated. Her findings also helped Carl Benz to improve the car further, so she also was the first quality manager of the automobile industry. With her pioneering trip she proved the suitability of her husband’s invention for daily use.
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the automotive patent of Carl Benz is a major contributor to the world’s cultural heritage, and thus it was officially included in the UNESCO Memory of the World Register in May 2011, showing its global relevance and symbolizing the origin of today’s mobile society.
But that was just the start of an ongoing story of success for the automobile. This road trip not only reaffirmed Carl Benz’s work, but bolstered both sales and marketing efforts in making the Benz patent motor car a success on the market. “In the years to follow and with new products developed, Benz & Company became the leading manufacturer of automobiles worldwide around the turn of century, said Christian Boucke, head of Mercedes-Benz Classic. “We are very proud that Bertha Benz is now in the Automotive Hall of Fame together with her husband Carl – she really deserves it!”