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1886: Bertha Benz Cures Her Need For Speed

The Patent Motorwagen No. 3, the first automobile powered by an internal combustion engine, was capable of speeding from 0-14 mph in approximately 45 seconds and packed the power of an entire horse! (2015 Mclaren P1: 0-62 in 2.8 seconds; 217 mph; 903 horse power.) With it, Bertha Benz cured her need for speed.

Granted, when Bertha Benz and her sons, Richard (13) and Eugen (15), drove the newly constructed automobile from Mannheim to Ptorzheim Germany on August 5, 1888, they probably moved at a significantly slower pace than the top possible speed.

Even so, spectators along the way were terrified by the horrific snorts and hisses emitting from their strange and monstrous contraption. Was it the work of Satan? .Other spectators, quite simply, stood in awe of how quickly the future was approaching.

Bertha Benz Needed Controversy

All of this emotion and controversy were exactly what Bertha Benz had hoped to inspire from her bold, now historic, drive with her boys. To date, no one had driven an automobile over any significant distance. Motorized drives had only been short tests, with participants returning quickly to their starting point – always with expert technical assistance.

Bertha Benz’s pioneering round-trip tour was a whopping 132 miles (212 km)! Although she claimed that the purpose of her trip was to visit her mother, her true mission was to prove to her husband, Karl Benz, that marketing was essential to the success of the automobile.

He had been developing the motor car for many years and had received a patent for it in 1885. Both Bertha and Karl had invested heavily in his invention, and she knew it could only become a financial success if they demonstrated its potential usefulness to the average person.

Perhaps more than anything, Bertha Benz wished to instill confidence in her husband to convince him to continue following his dreams. The first model ended in a collision during its demonstration. Bertha drove the third version of their automobile.

Bertha Benz Solved Problems On The Run

Karl’s invention was indeed a success this time, in that it carried Bertha and their sons safely for an unthinkable distance. However, Bertha Benz had to solve numerous problems along her journey.

– Bertha had to find ligroin to fuel the auto that was only available at an apothecary shop. It was a highly flammable liquid distillate of petroleum.
– She had to seek the assistance of a blacksmith to repair a chain, which lead to the invention of the brake lining.
– Bertha had to sacrifice her long hatpin to clean a blocked fuel pipe. (What a gal!)
– It was rumored that she had to use one of her own garters to insulate a wire.

Bertha Benz Sent Karl a Telegram (Text Message!)

Bertha Benz and her sons left Mannheim at dawn and reached Pforzheim around dusk. She contacted her husband by telegram (equivalent to today’s text message) to tell him she was safe. She and her sons drove back to Mannheim the following day.

Thanks to Bertha’s historic drive, she brought the Benz Patent-Motorwagen worldwide attention and won their company its first sales. The vehicle cost about $1,000 in 1886.

Although Bertha Benz financed the development of the automobile, once she and Karl were married, she held patent rights under modern law, but as a married woman she was not allowed to apply for the patent.
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