Mercedes film honors the first road trip, by the mother of the automobile
28. August 2018 - autoblog
Historic drive was 130 years ago this month in 1888
What was the first road trip ever taken? The history of just getting into the car and hitting the road dates way back to the first car ever built, as Bertha Benz — the wife, investor and business partner of inventor Karl Benz — took his Patent-Motorwagen for a long drive in the countryside 130 years ago this month, in August 1888.
This video clip released by Mercedes-Benz USA depicts Bertha's journey. As the Patent-Motorwagen legend goes, Karl Benz finished the third prototype, and let it sit. Bertha, who had the business acumen in the family, realized the Benzes had to get word out that the prototype was a functioning one. So on Aug. 5 she took the vehicle and her two oldest sons Richard and Eugen (she is shown motoring alone in the video), and headed for a proof-of-concept tour that would ultimately take them around Mannheim, Heidelberg, Wiesloch and Pforzheim in southern Germany. She left Karl a note that she and the boys were visiting her mother, but didn't mention how they were getting there. They rolled the Patent-Motorwagen away from the house so as not to wake him, and that night she telegraphed him from Pforzheim, 56 miles away, to tell him what she had done.
There were some milestones along the route: Since Mrs. Benz had to buy fuel, a Wiesloch pharmacy became the first fuel station in the world by selling her 10 liters of ligroin, a petroleum ether. (The pharmacist thought she wanted it to clean her dirty clothes.) And a shoemaker nailed leather on the brake blocks at her request, the first installation of replacement brake linings. The prototype suffered some mechanical issues, but Bertha was able to repair them on the road, clearing a fuel line with a hat pin and patching insulation on an ignition wire with a garter, just as the video depicts. Roads were crude at best, and the Benz family had to scout water sources on their route, as the engine was cooled by pouring water over it, and oil had to constantly be added as it dripped out. When they ran out of ligroin at one point, the boys and Bertha pushed the Patent-Motorwagen several kilometers.
They successfully completed the trip, totaling 120 miles and attracting a great deal of attention from startled Germans along the way — some fearing the "smoking monster," and some wanting a ride. And the publicity, of course, was exactly what Bertha had wanted.
Bertha Benz died in 1944, at age 95, two days after she was honored on her birthday by the Technical University of Karlsruhe, a place where women in her era had not been allowed to study. She was inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2016. (Karl was inducted in 1984.)
For the past 10 years, the Bertha Benz Memorial Route has been marked, so people can re-create her pioneering journey.