On this day in auto history – May 5th

Wed 5th May 2021

It was on this day in 1944 that the remarkable Bertha Benz - the first person to drive a motor car over a significant distance - passed away at the grand old age of 95.

The wife and business partner of Karl Benz – widely-regarded as the inventor of the motor car - a then 39-year-old Bertha famously drove her two sons in Benz’s newly-constructed ‘Patent Motorwagen’ for 56 miles from Mannheim to Pforzheim without her husband’s permission. 

The epic 1888 journey has since become known as 'the most important car journey ever undertaken’, given that prior to this historic event, automobile trips merely consisted of short trial drives with a mechanical assistant present and involved returning to the original point of origin.

Although Bertha’s trip was ostensibly to visit her mother, she also had other motives; namely to instil confidence into her reticent husband that the automobile they had invested in so heavily would be a financial success if he brought it to market.

Bertha’s pioneering trip across rough terrain was reputed to have taken over 15 hours and involved her displaying remarkable technical capabilities along the way, including clearing a blocked fuel line with her hat-pin and using her garter as isolation material. When the worn-down, wooden breaks began to fail, she asked a local cobbler to fit some leather lining, thus effectively inventing break-pads!

In 2008 the Bertha Benz Memorial Route, which follows the tracks of the original trip, was opened to commemorate Bertha’s pioneering deed and has been officially approved as a European Route of Industrial Heritage.