karl and bertha benz

Wednesdays for Women #1: Bertha Benz

Call it the prying of destiny, but I am intrigued by exceptional and eccentric women.* I seem to unwittingly scout them out like a puppy on yesterday’s undies– if there is one to be found in the vicinity, the endeavor will inevitably end in my unconscious salivation. What starts as an innocent peruse of Huff Post unravels into the riveting tale of The White Mouse and her gestapo-stumping schemes, a 5-million franc bounty, and the bicycle ride from Hell. I can hardly look for suitable covers of Gene Krupa and Anita O’Day’s “Tea for Two” before I’m thrust head-first into the American tragedy of the Beale family, a Palm Beach modeling gig gone awry and the dilapidated East Hampton home of numerous opossums, raccoons, cats, and, most notably, a mouldering mother riddled by the fear of burglary.

Beset by such a burden, I have decided to unencumber myself in the only way we bloggers know how. Thus, using primarily Wikipedia as a source (and pictures I DO NOT OWN**), I will share some of these weird and wonderful stories of awe-inspiring women with you, beginning with our titular hero, Bertha Benz.

bertha_Benz_Motorwagen

Now you may be whispering to yourself (like a maniacal villain), “Benz, Benz… I feel like I’ve heard that name before,” and in this case, you would be right. The “Benz” you associate with Mercedes (no connection to the Count of Monte Cristo), began with none other than the husband to our Bertha. But before we come to the car which forms the second object of salivation mentioned in this post (see below for a model “Ford” to frame the third), there was a unmarried trollop in the Grand Duchy of Baden investing in the hottest inventor on the market. While that may be a large exaggeration, it is true that the unmarried Bertha (Ringer, as it were) invested a large sum of her own money into the workshop of Karl Benz, and his vision of a motorwagen. This money made it possible for Benz to patent the first automobile, not to mention the real great American pastime (and subject to German law, after they were married she no longer retained an investing power to her money; after all, she had a husband to take care of that while she saw to their five children).

Nevertheless bored with nappies, Bertha decided to invent the modern marketing industry and the brake lining all in one fateful afternoon. Without telling her husband or the authorities (*gasp*), she decided to take the new motorwagen out for a spin– but not one of the short trial runs they had hithero engaged in– Bertha decided to drive 66 miles with two of her sons to visit her mother. Or could her plans be more sinister…

A considerable number of people in 1882 had never seen a car. Thus, on her dawn to dusk moto-cruise, she did things like clean a fuel pipe with a hatpin and insulate a wire with her garter (#justgirlythings), not to mention her various stops along the way, exposing her life’s investment to the general public. By the time she reached her mother’s house, she had caused quite a buzz over her new decidedly-not-a-Radio-Flyer wagen, and she had become the first person to “drive an automobile over a real distance” (for all the Kerouac haters out there, this is where you pin the blame). Her marketing stunt also garnered a great deal of publicity, which helped to create a commodified demand for the new invention. Investment Genius, Test Driver Extraordinaire, McGyver-prototype Inventress, and Marketing Wizard- need I say more?

Bertha-Benz2

*It’s not that I have anything against exceptional and eccentric men (*cough Harrison Ford*), there’s just a 99.9% less chance that I will become one with the passing of time.

**so don’t link back to me, link to the link I’ve linked to- respect where it’s due, right? Speaking of which, the featured first image can be found here.