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A portrait of Bertha Benz. She is surrounded by a dark gray circular border, with her house in the background. The image is labeled "Women's History Month, Bertha Benz" in black text. The image has a dark gray border.

An incredibly important figure in the automotive industry, whose efforts were integral to the success and recognition of the automobile.

Bertha Ringer was born to two very wealthy parents, Karl Friedrich Ringer and Auguste Frierich, who invested their money into their children’s education. Ever since her boarding school days, Bertha had been captivated by an interest in technical innovation.

In 1896, Bertha met Karl Benz, a passionate inventor who had dreams of creating an engine for a horseless carriage. Bertha was interested in and admired his idea, so much so that she invested her personal funds into it, but Karl continuously struggled to make his dream a reality. The two were married in 1872, and Bertha paid her dowry money early to put into Karl’s failing company, but now that she was married, she was no longer considered an investor in his business. 

She continued to support her husband’s work; but not just through financial means, though. Bertha worked physically side by side with her husband on his creations. A breakthrough was made for the couple when on New Year’s Eve, 1879, they were finally able to create a working two-stroke engine. 6 years later in December 1885, Karl’s horseless carriage was finished, however, he was met with skepticism from the public and struggled to market it because people wondered if it was practical. On top of this, the car wasn’t tested over long distances. Bertha knew how important this creation was, but could not apply for the patent with her husband, and so she decided to take matters into her own hands; setting out on a long-distance road trip with her two sons, without her husband’s knowledge.

A painting of the roadtrip Bertha Benz took with her two sons. The trio is on the right of the painting, all three sitting on the automobile as it moves forward.

This 13-hour journey was integral to the success of Karl’s Motorwagen, and the public’s belief in automobiles themselves. Over the course of her trip, Bertha repaired the car with tools she brought along on her own, stopped at a pharmacy to refill, and pushed the car uphill with her two sons when the brake blocks wore out. It was an incredibly important test drive; Bertha’s decision allowed for her husband’s work to be tested out on the field, and she was able to discern what could be improved on and even offered suggestions on how to fix the problems that arose. The importance of this trip cannot be overstated.

Bertha and her efforts are remembered today in many ways, with both her and her husband being inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame (he in 1984, and she in 2016), and the path of her road trip becoming a tourist attraction called the Bertha Benz Memorial Route. Her actions brought attention to an incredible creation that would soon become embedded in our daily lives, and she was able to make history during a time when women were seen as nothing more than wives and child bearers.