Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Bertha Benz by Guest Blogger John Faulkner

German engineer Carl Benz patented the first petrol engine motor car 130 years ago. The person who made the motor car a commercial reality and initiated the industry was his fiancĂ©, and later wife, Bertha Benz. Although unseemly for women at the time, Bertha had great interest in Science and Engineering. 

Carl owned an almost bankrupt ironworks in Mannheim. He had little business sense but was a talented engineer. He had the idea for the design and construction of a 'horseless carriage' driven by a petrol engine. His fiancĂ©, Bertha, with unshakable belief in him used her inherited wealth to provide the funds to save his business. They married and together, through very hard times and disappointments, they built the first motor car, patened on 29 January 1886. 

Carl drove the newly completed car around their town. The vehicle worried the local people who petitioned the Kaiser to ban it. The car was confirmed to the ironworks as a curiosity - by orders of the authorities and under police guard! 

Following all their hard work, Bertha just could not accept this and her determined actions changed the world... 

Stealing the very car she had helped to build, and with two of her children to push it up the hills, she drove to her mother's home 100km away in Pforzheim. 

Bertha had to make running repairs. One to unblock a pipe with her hatpin and another to make improvements to the failing wooden brake blocks by replacing them with leather pads. The catastrophe of a broken drive chain did not stop her and she found a blacksmith to make the repair. 

The car used cleaning fluid as fuel, better known to us today as petrol and she stopped at pharmacies on her way to top up. At one pharmacy in Wieslock, she bought the entire stock to the confusion of the chemist. This pharmacy later became the worlds first petrol filling station! 

Finally, Bertha made it to her mother's house only to find her out visiting a cousin! She sent a telegram to Carl to explain where she was with the children and a few days later made the return journey. By now, the horseless carriage had caused such a stir, people lined the route to see the astonishing machine with the driver and her passengers. 

Bertha made a detailed report on the drive which lead to further technical improvements such as extra gearing and better brakes, proving the importance of rigorous test drives to verify designs. She established many firsts and ideas on her drive: brake pads, petrol filling stations, car mechanic workshops and the concept of the autobahn.

Her clever publicity raised public awareness that reliable petrol driven motor vehicles could be manufactured. Orders for the motor cars soon arrived and the automobile industry began with production of the worlds first cars manufactured by the Benz company. 

Famed for her work, Bertha died in 1944 at the age of 95. In 2008, the 194km round trip Bertha Benz Memorial Route was inaugurated to honour her. 

One hundred and thirty years after her awesome drive, it might be interesting to wonder what Bertha would have made of the traffic on the A3 through Guildford at rush hour!