The Modern Car, It All Began With Benz

The Modern Car, It All Began With Benz
"I believe in the horse, the automobile is just a temporary phenomenon", said Germany's last Kaiser Wilhelm II, when cars first arrived on the scene.

Nevertheless not only did he become a car fanatic, more than 130 years after Carl Benz registered his invention of a "motor carriage" in Mannheim on January 29, 1886 this "temporary phenomenon" shows no sign of going away.

His three wheeled invention, Patent Number 37435 and described as a "Tricycle - vehicle powered by a gas engine", was started by a crank, and its internal combustion engine produced 2.5 horsepower with a top speed of 18 km/h, 11.2 mph.

The "horseless carriage" was offered for sale to the public from July 1886.

Created by mechanical engineer, and later founder of the company that became Mercedes Benz, Carl Benz, it is considered to be the world's first modern automobile. Despite predecessors created by various inventors across Europe, some dated back as far as the 17th century that were steam-driven or electrically-powered. While not long after Benz had patented his own invention, Stuttgart gun maker Gottlieb Daimler independently created a four wheel vehicle that resembled a horse drawn cab.

Born in Karlsruhe on November 25, 1844, the son of an engine driver, in his memoirs Carl Benz wrote how much of his success was owed to his wife Bertha who had married him in July 1872, and with whom he had five children.

Engaged but unmarried, in 1871 she used a prepayment of her dowry to invest in his business, becoming his business partner and enabling the research and development to go ahead. German law of the time would not only have made this impossible had they already been married, she would also not have been allowed to patent the automobile.

She had fallen in love with the heavily in debt, but visionary, engineer. Believing in his ideas and giving him unwavering support through some hard years, as he struggled to bring his idea of a vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine to life.

"Only one person was there beside me in the lifeboat in the days when everything was heading for ruin. That was my wife. Brave and courageous she hoisted the sails of hope", was how he described it in his memoirs.

The car had been patented and offered for sale but orders were slow coming in. Not only Kaiser Wilhelm was skeptical about the horseless carriage, and Carl was again thinking of giving up the whole project.

But Bertha had other ideas.

The first long-distance automobile journey in history

She, and their 13 and 15 year-old sons Richard and Eugen, decided to drive one of the later automobiles, the Model III.

Together with some local farmers, her sons had to push the car up a hill because its engine was not powerful enough to make it without help, so Bertha suggested that providing another gear might make climbing hills easier.

Everything about the experience was new, and not only to Bertha and the boys.

A noise warned them a chain had stretched so they stopped at the blacksmiths in Bruchsal to repair it, then the fuel line became clogged and was cleared with a hairpin, next the ignition broke and fixed with one of Bertha's garters.

The brakes wore down and the first brake linings were made by a Bauschlott cobbler who fixed leather onto the brake shoes, and while he was working she sent a telegram to her husband and let him know she, the boys and "his baby" were fine.

No one had made this journey before so they had underestimated the fuel needed, and as filling stations had not been invented they stopped at "The World's First Filling Station", a pharmacy that still exists in Wiesloch, to buy some "Ligroin". A solvent used to power the engine.

After arriving in Pforzheim at dusk, luckily before dark as their "Benz" didn't have headlights, Bertha telegraphed her husband that the expedition had been a success.

It was a sensation.

To avoid the steep mountains, for the return journey three days later they took a slightly different route, on what is now the Baden-Württemberg Bertha Benz Memorial Route. The road was lined with people. Some awestruck others frightened by the hissing and spitting horseless carriage, but this journey was the breakthrough that changed everything.

The Benz's faith in their invention had been rewarded. Thanks to a daring road trip by Bertha Benz and her sons, for which she also was later given the first ever Drivers License, the automobile had "arrived" and was now at the beginning of its own journey to success.

Photo credits: No. 3 Benz and modern Mercedes Benz, courtesy - Bertha Benz circa 1885, author unknown source: - Wiesloch Stadtapotheke, 'The First Filling Station in the World', via

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Content copyright © 2019 by Francine A. McKenna. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Francine A. McKenna. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Francine A. McKenna for details.