In today’s age it seems almost impossible to travel without a car. Over time, it has become an attainable commodity that seems to be making its way into more households than ever before.
But there was a time when cars did not exist.
The idea of creating a functional automobile run on fuel and charged by electrical parts on roads had not been materialised yet.
But then, it finally became someone’s vision to transform the way humans travel and take the dream across the finish line.
And no, contrary to popular belief, Henry Ford didn’t do it.
A humble mechanic named Karl Benz did, along with his genius wife.
He would later go on to becoming one half of Mercedes Benz. So yes, the familiar name is ringing the right bell.
As for his story - In 1844, a prodigious child was born who would one day give the world its first-ever car and change the course of journeys forever.
But we’ll come to the extraordinary future wife and her phenomenal story in just a bit.
A brilliant locomotive engineer, Karl Benz became obsessed with creating a “horseless carriage.”
He was very inspired by others’ attempts to do the same in the past. He researched relentlessly, completed his education and gained experience doing different jobs.
When he got down to work, he successfully developed a gasoline-powered two-stroke piston engine.
This would become the standard structure of the modern engine we use today.
In the process, he patented the battery, throttle system, speed regulation, clutch, gearshift, water radiator and spark plug; pretty much everything we need to run a car today.
When he had time and resources, Benz focused entirely on his dream project. Inspired by his love for bicycles, he used similar technology to design his ambitious model.
His efforts resulted in the first-ever automobile to generate power on its own. It was a three-wheeled wonder called a Motorwagen. Benz was thereafter granted patent rights.
By doing so, he marked his iconic place in history as the first-ever carmaker.
Throughout this time, his partner, Bertha Ringer, remained his support system, biggest critic and collaborator.
Karl Benz was a poor, shabby mechanical engineer and Bertha was a high-society, refined young lady when they first met. Due to family objections, they had to fight all odds to be together.
Bertha saved him from bankruptcy and invested a large part of her own inheritance to start a new company called Benz & Cie.
By that time, Berth and Karl were married with 5 children. Bertha continued playing his advisor as he switched workplaces and experiments with all kinds of engineering.
There were highs and lows.
Karl Benz was a nervous, unconfident man who suffered from depression often. It was up to Bertha to keep him stable and steady in their ventures.
As the couple kept modifying their first successful automobile over the years, Bertha made a bold plan one day.
On 5th August 1888, she pulled out the 'motorwagen' early in the morning without telling her husband and fearlessly took off for her mother’s house that happened to be 106 kilometres away. Her sons were onboard as well.
The path ahead was rocky, uneven and uncertain.
Bertha and her kids had to push the car uphill many times. She cleared a fuel line with a hairpin, found a blacksmith in the middle of nowhere to fix the driving chain and faced many other hassles.
She had to stop repeatedly to make repairs and found fuel with difficulty. Yet, she not only finished the journey but also rectified many mechanical and technical problems on the way.
This became famous as the first-ever long-distance road trip made by an automobile. Bertha also became the first-ever person to drive a car in the real sense. The day is still celebrated in Germany.
This is also when Bertha Benz invented the brake pads by adding leather to the wooden brakes. This improvement was used in every car from thereon.
Now, Bertha was a very smart lady.
She used the journey as ‘live marketing’ to boost publicity and showed people that her car could genuinely cover considerable distances and become a legitimate mode of transportation.
The brilliant strategy worked. Onlookers were in awe after witnessing the miracle machine. It was an unbelievable sight.
Hence, the innovative couple started receiving orders and investments. Business prospered.
Charged by fresh success, Benz created the first flat engine that’s still used in high performance racing cars such as Porsche and Subaru.
Then he created the first-ever truck in history.
The truck’s internal combustion engine was modified to make the first bus ever by Netphener, the first motorbus company.
So basically, we owe half of our on-road vehicles to Karl and Bertha Benz; the couple that gave people wheels.
Their contribution is too immense to encapsulate in words. Their collective vision transported the world to a new era.
Apart from the evolution of technology, the other story that inspires is the bond they shared.
As Karl Benz said,
“Only one person remained with me in the small ship of life when it seemed destined to sink. That was my wife. Bravely and resolutely she set the new sails of hope.”
What's incredible is that Bertha achieved such greatness in a society where women were not allowed an education or freedom of thought. This woman went against all odds and moved the world.
And the world remembers. Karl and Bertha cared for each other, and for machines. All their hard work paid off in the end.
Their legacy of love and invention continues to grace the pages of history, and it always will.