Incredible Moments in History – The Horseless Carriage Gets on the Road

In 1888, a woman took her two children and without even notifying her husband set out with them on the first long-distance drive of the first automobile in the world.  Her name was Bertha Benz, and she was the 39 year old wife of Karl Benz–yes, of future Mercedes-Benz fame.

Bertha zoomed along the roads at 10 miles an hour, driving 60 miles from Mannheim to Pforzheim in this new-fangled horseless carriage.

Her trip made headlines; nothing of its like had ever been seen. In making this voyage, she catapaulted the automobile from the bog of doubt and neglect that had greeted its invention.  Her spunk raised public attention and was just the marketing her husband needed to get his invention sold–and to get people to believe that cars without horses could actually work.

But Bertha didn’t just dare to drive, she also proved a self-sufficient improviser and mechanic during this trip, cleaning the carburetor using her hat pin and insulating a wire with her garter. (I, who own neither a hat pin nor a garter, feel ill-prepared for a drive now!)  She also replaced the brake lining on the drive, and upon her return home advised her husband on improvements he should make to the vehicle–including adding a gear for climbing hills.

Karl Benz was a believer, pioneer and inventor, and his wife’s contributions–financial, moral and finally mechanical–were crucial in getting his dream off the ground.

If you’re in the mood to relive history, you can join or witness the caravan of antique automobiles which follows this historic trip every two years.

Now two little nuggets of history to enjoy.

First off, if you’re imagining that Bertha traveled in the kind of secure car we use today, think again.   This is from the following link from Wikipedia–and it’s her model.  Imagine driving this with two kids for 60 miles.  Egad!

Want to take this out on a 60 mile drive

Incredible invention

And secondly, this is from years later, but check the BOUNCE in this vehicle! 🙂  That’s a ride that’s gotta hurt.  (I have no idea what make of car this is.)  And yet look how excited everyone is about it.  Divine.  History.  🙂  So alive!

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About sputnitsa

Born in the US, I grew up in Africa and the West Indies, and returned stateside in my teens. After a decade in international development, democracy work, and inclusivity training for domestic NGOs, I joined Peace Corps, and after a year, experienced my first Russian invasion. I followed that up by volunteering with refugees and youth, and after some vacation time climbing minarets and mountains, I returned to New York City, where today I work on social justice with college students, produce short films, and write.
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8 Responses to Incredible Moments in History – The Horseless Carriage Gets on the Road

  1. Beth says:

    That does not look like a comfortable ride at all! The kids probably thought it was great fun, though…if a bit long.
    And now I feel very inadequate in the impromptu mechanic department…maybe I should start carrying my hat pin with me when I drive.

    • sputnitsa says:

      Hahaha! I know! I think they must have been a bit sore afterward! Hopefully the road itself was smooth but I don’t know what the odds were for that.

      I agree with you on the hat pin situation. Now where does a lady buy a hat pin these days? 🙂 🙂 I have a vision of the subway stopping and me helpfully offering my hat pin to fix it. 🙂

  2. monty says:

    Pshh, Mannheim to Pforzheim is not exactly smooth sailing either (considering the area’s proximity to the Alps, that should give you an idea of the terrain….). Having grown up in and biked this area extensively, I can attest to this!

    • sputnitsa says:

      No wonder that her ride swayed the tide so powerfully! Not only did she set out on this new carriage for such a long distance, but she did it in hilly terrain! Very brave and committed of her. And to go with two kids… Some people just sock it to you, how real they were, how close we are to each other, despite the time that’s passed between us. 🙂

      Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  3. Harharhar. That vid is priceless.

    Oh, Sput…what lady doesn’t keep pins in her garter? Get with it! 😉

  4. ralfast says:

    Gutsy lady that Mrs. Benz

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