summer of 1870, she met the engineer Carl Benz. The two fell in love and soon began making big plans. They both agreed that they did not want to stay in Pforzheim.
So Carl Benz set up shop in Mannheim. The wedding was to take place and Bertha would join him as soon as he could make a living there. He set up a mechanical workshop in T6/11 – as the distinctive Mannheim address format stated - with August Ritter but the two men were soon at odds with one another. When Bertha realized the problems that her fiancé was facing during one of his visits to Pforzheim, she persuaded her father to pay him her dowry before the wedding and an advance on her inheritance so that Carl could buy out his companion.
27-year old Carl Benz and 23-year old Bertha Ringer married in Pforzheim on July 20, 1872. They first rented a home in Mannheim but Carl soon built them their own apartment with two rooms and a kitchen onto the workshop. When their first son Eugen was born on May 1, 1873, the small family was overjoyed – but also deep in debt.
The next 15 years were dominated by big financial problems, as Carl needed more money for his workshop equipment and his inventions than the small business could provide. In the meantime, the family was expanding: their second son, Richard, was born on October 21, 1874. Three years later, on July 25, 1877, the family was forced to sell all the workshop equipment, shortly before Bertha brought their daughter Klara into the world just a week later. Despite the great worries, Bertha continued to stand by her husband, often quite literally, in the workshop. Here, the couple held many discussions and Bertha acquired technical knowledge. Witnesses of the time later reported that she knew the engines and the cars nearly as well as her husband.
In 1878, Carl Benz was fiddling with his latest invention: a machine for commercial use. But there were problems with the new engine. On New Year’s Eve, when the children were in bed, Carl and Bertha started the two-stroke engine together – and it started running, a noise that was far lovelier than any bells ringing in the New Year.
In the spring of 1882, shortly after the birth of their fourth child, Thilde, they were in financial difficulties once again. This led to the founding of the Mannheim petrol engine factory together with solvent partners. After a short while, Carl Benz fell out with these partners, who did not share his visions of an automobile. Disappointed, he left the company after three months in January 1883 – once again, the family had nothing.
In 1883, Carl Benz set up “Benz & Cie. Rheinische Gasmotorenfabrik Mannheim” with new partners and set about developing his automobile. Bertha regularly sat alongside Carl during the first test drives in 1886, not just to get out and push when it stopped again: she was also his lucky charm. Developing the new car took lots of time and cost lots of money; Carl Benz wondered if the car was suitable for long trips at all.
Once again, Bertha showed her husband that she had unshakeable faith in him and in his abilities.
In August 1888, she secretly took her sons out in the car, defying the official driving ban without further ado, drove the 180 kilometers to Pforzheim and back – and returned with suggested improvements for further development.
The success that they desired gradually began to arrive. Following the company’s move to Waldhofstraße, the family got more space – living above the offices. In March 1890, the youngest of the family, Ellen, was born. Test drives with newly-developed cars were family excursions on Sundays, with not only the sons but often the daughters at the wheel.
In 1903, Carl Benz left his company in Mannheim; the family relocated to Ladenburg. Together with his sons, Carl Benz set up the “Carl Benz Söhne” factory in 1906, which later produced its own automobiles from 1908 onwards.
In the meantime, Bertha was negotiating with architects regarding the conversion of the villa that she acquired in 1905.
In the 1920s, the automobile inventor was awarded many distinctions, always with his wife at his side.
Carl Benz died on April 4, 1929. Bertha then received a lot of attention. She was especially delighted when she was named honorary senator of the Technische Universität Karlsruhe to mark her 95th birthday.
Two days later, on May 5, 1944, Bertha Benz, whose important role in the automotive revolution continues to be underrated to the present day, died.
Still trying to get a grip on her temperament:
Women, women, women...
-Bertha Benz- the world’s first car mechanic. Along the way, she had to use a hatpin to unblock the clogged carburettor, and she insulated a burnt-out wire on the camshaft using one of her garters. Once safely back in Mannheim, she told her husband the car needed one more gear for hills.
-One of the first people to buy a ‘Benz’ was also a woman – a teacher from Hungary. As she could not afford the car on her own, she shared her excitement with a colleague, who helped out with the purchase.
-The first person ever to pass a driving test was the French duchess Anne d’Uzès in 1898. She was also the first person to be fined for driving too fast. In the Bois de Boulogne near Paris, she drove at 15 km/h instead of the 12 km/h that was allowed.
“At first, I didn’t want any of these vulgar, rackety motor cars. But then I discovered what great fun it was to drive one,” said the Duchess.
-The first German driver’s licence was issued to Amalie Hoeppner, who passed her driving test in 1909 in Leipzig.
The first women’s car clubs were established as early as the late 19th/early 20th century. Their members held meetings to plan joint car journeys and to discuss how the car could be made safer and more comfortable to drive. The women were able to influence engineers and designs right from the start.
“Bertha was energetic enough to focus all the family’s strength on the business and on earning money. She was firmly convinced of the future of the groundbreaking invention, and was often more optimistic than the innovative Carl Benz himself. He was well aware of how valuable she was to him.’”
This description of the couple comes from a Daimler-Benz AG brochure to accompany an exhibition entitled Women and Automobiles in 1988. The website of Mercedes-Benz Germany writes of Carl Benz’s “resolute spouse”, and adds that: “Without her strong will and unshakable faith in her husband’s success, the company Benz & Cie. would probably never have survived.”
Bertha Benz’s first long-distance trip was also the first endurance test for an automobile and yielded the valuable lesson that mountain touring imposed special demands on the engine. At her insistence, the vehicle was given a second gear that was better suited to hill climbing.