Women and the car
Women and the car: A success story from the very start
Women played a crucial role in the success of the automobile, which was invented almost simultaneously by Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz in 1886.
Outing for two: Bertha Benz sits beside husband Carl Benz in an 1894 Benz Victoria model.
The first long-distance journey in the Benz Patent Motor Car – which was also the first promotional tour and the first endurance test in automotive history – was undertaken by a woman: Bertha Benz. And the breakthrough for the revolutionary new German invention was achieved in France, thanks to the enterprising spirit of a woman: Louise Sarazin. The first person to pass a driving test was a woman, Duchess Anne d’Uzès, who was also the first person to be fined for speeding. And the first person to round the world in a car was, yes, you guessed it, a woman – Clärenore Stinnes.
The woman at his side: Gottlieb Daimler and his second wife Lina, pictured in 1893.
The two inventors of the car, Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz, were greatly encouraged in their work by their wives. The book ,Daimler – Benz. Wo das Auto anfing, pays tribute to their contributions to the invention of the automobile: "For the wives of the pioneers not to give their advice in decisions really would not have been in keeping with their position nor with the sacrifices they made." As the saying goes: Behind every strong man there is a strong woman in support.
The wife of Carl Benz played an extremely active role in the history of the automobile. Bertha Benz not only constantly strengthened her husband's resolve, encouraged him when he was on the verge of giving up in the face of seemingly insoluble problems, or was a good partner to him for constructive discussions, she even used her dowry to support her husband's plans.
Automotive pioneer: Bertha Benz, here seen in a youthful portrait, helped prepare the ground for the expansion of motorised vehicles.
In addition, she was the first woman to help further develop the automobile. After the first long trip (and first endurance test) with the Benz Patent Motor Car from Mannheim to Pforzheim and back in August 1888, she knew as driver what definitely had to be improved. One thing the vehicle needed was an additional gear for hills, as Carl Benz recalls in his memoirs, which were transcribed by his son-in-law rather than Benz himself: "And the moral of the story was: 'The engine is too weak for mountain tours.' So the engineer gladly accepted the proposal and fitted a third gear for uphill travel."
Apart from the valuable practical insights that led to further improvements in the new vehicle, the bold trip that Bertha Benz undertook with her two sons was the first promotional tour for an automobile. The press reported at length on the horseless carriage and so drew attention to Benz’s new means of transport, which was shortly after presented in Munich, where it was heralded as the "fully-fledged substitute for horse and carriage".
The year 1888 was an important one for the breakthrough of the automobile in economic respects, too, and once again a woman had a major hand in it. Louise Sarazin took over business operations for Gottlieb Daimler that year in France, the country of technophiles where the revolutionary new vehicle first aroused people's enthusiasm. While Germany took a rather sceptical view of the German invention, from France the automobile set out to conquer the world.
Key figure in automotive history: After the death of her husband, Louise Sarazin-Levassor continued running his business with Gottlieb Daimler and played a significant part in the success of the automobile.
The sale of Daimler engines in France began with an amicable relationship between Gottlieb Daimler and lawyer Edouard Sarazin, who the German inventor knew from his days at the Deutz company. With a handshake, Sarazin acquired the rights to exploit all future Daimler inventions on French territory. But then the Frenchman fell ill and died on 24 December 1887 at the age of 47.
On his deathbed, he instructed his wife to continue his work of propagating Daimler's invention throughout France. This she did. "You will now want to find a new representative for France," Louise Sarazin wrote to Gottlieb Daimler. "But as I have a knowledge of all past negotiations and am informed of all details to date, I too offer you my services for your work until you have found a suitable replacement for my husband."
Gottlieb Daimler accepted "wholeheartedly" and assured her "that you will continue to share in the transactions, but I am as yet unable to tell you in what way. In any case I shall do nothing in the near future without seeking your advice." Author Friedrich Schildberger wrote that it was typical of Daimler's sure instinct that he clearly recognised the exceptional abilities of this woman.
Other men lacked this instinct, however. Louise Sarazin first had to prove that she could make a worthwhile contribution as a woman and hold her own as a business partner. But she was not about to let it get her down and proved highly persuasive on behalf of the new engines and their possibilities for use in private vehicles. On 5 February 1889 Gottlieb Daimler and Louise Sarazin signed the contract that finally sealed the introduction of the automobile in France: Daimler would get 12 percent of the purchase price for every engine which Madame Sarazin as concession holder built or had built.
Gottlieb Daimler remained true to his business partner when other parties showed an interest in manufacturing the Daimler patents under license subsequent to the World Exposition in Paris from May to October 1889. On 1 November, 1889, he gave Louise Sarazin a written promise that she could exclusively exploit all French and Belgian patents, the only condition being that they must bear the name Daimler.
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