Benz of Legend: The First Car Ever

Happy birthday to the car!

1886 Benz Patent Motorwagen
1886 Benz Patent Motorwagen.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY! Today, January 29th of the year 2016, is the 130th anniversary of the car. On this day 130 years ago, German inventor Karl Benz filed patent 37435 for his "vehicle powered by a gas engine," which is the first automobile ever made. Thanks Mr. Benz.

We certainly can't give Karl all the credit, however. His wife Bertha financed he entire operation, and was the driving force behind the vehicle's actual marketing.

Karl was always wanting to return to his lab to continue refining his design, but it was Bertha who pushed him to do public demonstrations. Some of those demonstrations didn't go so well, and Karl once again vanished into his labs.

This earliest version was a bizarre-looking, by modern standards, three-wheeled vehicle with an engine in the rear under the seats and a two-stroke, one-cylinder engine producing six tenths of a horsepower. Top speed was almost 10 miles per hour (definitely not one of the quickest Benzes of all time), which made it like taking a brisk walk, but with horrifically bumpy ride and a cloud of noxious fumes. Steering was accomplished with a horrid looking little knob, rather than a proper wheel.

Fearing that Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach were going to produce a marketable product before Benz got his vehicle on the market, she took an improved version that now made a whopping two horsepower when her husband was out.

In order to prove the viability of the automobile, she took the first one on a road trip to see her mother. She loaded her 14 and 15 year old sons in the car and drove a distance of 121 miles (there an back) while operating as her own mechanic, cleaning out the fuel pipe with her hat pin and her garter to insulate a wire.

 

They took a few detours, as well. Bertha showed her sons her birthplace in Pforzheim and they saw some other sights. She took this unproven invention and proved it by simply acting as if it were the kind of device that people used casually every day. Without this attention-grabbing stunt, Benz & Cie. would have most-likely crashed and burned and turned into nothing but the short answer to an automotive trivia question.

Instead, real interest in the automobile was generated, and Benz went on to partner with Daimler and Maybach to create a company that has been on the forefront of automotive technology for as long as the automobiel has existed. Today, "Daimler" refers to the parent company, Mercedes-Benz is the brand we know best, and Mercedes-Maybach is the sub-brand for the very richest of customers.

It may have been extremely crude by today's standards, but we can all be thankful that Mr. Benz created this device, and that Mrs. Benz financed it and had the gumption to prove it in the real world when even its creator didn't trust it.