Mercédès and Bertha: The Muse and the Mastermind Behind Mercedes-Benz

Mercedes and Bertha car brand today

Mercedes-Benz, Frankfurt Motor Show 2011, Frankfurt, Germany. Photo by Thomas Wolf, www.foto-tw.de, Wikimedia Commons

They aren’t contemporaries. They never meet. But shy Mercédès Jellinek and determined Bertha Benz unknowingly team up to become the inspiration behind one of the most coveted automobile brands — Mercedes-Benz. An almost century’s old partnership between the two oldest automobile companies in the world, Mercedes-Benz is something of a mythic symbol of status and prestige, and the contribution of the women behind its existence is the stuff of legend. Because if not for Mercédès and Bertha, the cars that have become synonymous with reliable elegance may very well have never existed.

But what did Mercédès and Bertha do, exactly? Well…

Let’s go chronologically, shall we? And that means between Mercédès and Bertha, we need to start with Bertha.

Unveiling a hidden gem

Bertha Benz in her teens

Bertha Benz nee Ringer, Age 18, c. 1867

May 3rd. 1849. Germany. Bertha Ringer is born into a wealthy family in Pforzheim. Smart, pretty and quite the catch, everyone’s surprised when she falls for the awkward, shy but brilliant Karl Benz, a burgeoning — and poor — engineer. Bertha believes in him so much that she invests her dowry in his company two years before they marry. She continues pouring money into Karl’s ventures after tying the knot, backing the 1885 development of his groundbreaking gas-powered, motorized horseless carriage with an internal combustion engine.

the Benz Motorwagen

The first production Benz Motorwagen, 1888

1886. Germany. Introverted Karl’s business partners love his stationary gas-powered engine, but are wary of this motorized horseless carriage — “Don’t waste your time on motorcars” — and leave him with his Benz motorwagen. He patents it in 1886, receiving specification DRP 37435 and nobody bites. In fact, some fear it and although Karl continues perfecting his new vehicle, he’s no self-promoter and into the family garage the automobile goes while elsewhere in Germany, Gottlieb Daimler — the outgoing inventor of the motorcycle — is moving forward on his own horseless passenger vehicle.

But Bertha refuses to let her husband’s hard work go to waste.

Bertha's stop for ligroin

Stadtapotheke (City Pharmacy) in Wiesloch, Baden-Württemberg, Germany, the “first filling station” in the world. A Bertha Benz memorial is in the foreground. Photo by Rudolf Stricker, Wikimedia Commons

August 5th. 1888. Manheim. Bertha “steals” Karl’s motorwagen in the wee hours of the morning with her two teenage sons as her willing accomplices. Sure, the mom of four — their fifth, Ellen, is two years away  — leaves a note that says she’s going to her mother’s 194 km away but not that she boosted the car to get there, which the “thieves” push down the road so Bertha can start it without Karl hearing.

The route Bertha takes definitely gets her noticed, word spreads, she runs out of gas and convinces a pharmacist to give her ligroin to fill her tank, invents brake pads on the fly when the wooden brakes stick, unplugs a fuel line with her hat pin, gives test drives to curious bystanders, pushes the motorwagen up hills with her sons because it has no gears… basically, Bertha Benz encounters a slew of mishaps traveling the horse roads from Point A — her home in Mannheim — to Point B — her mom’s in Pforzheim — and keeps going. She’s driving where only horse and wagon have gone before, and displays some serious moxie in ensuring her husband’s motorwagen doesn’t sit forgotten in their garage.

Bertha knows with the right publicity, she’ll get people interested in Karl’s brilliant design and when she telegraphs him upon arriving at her mother’s to let him know she and the boys are safe, she discovers just how well her ploy works — he’s already heard about it in a time when the phone is only 10 years on the scene, the Internet isn’t even an idea of science fiction, and word of mouth LITERALLY means word of mouth.

Without Bertha, there would be no Benz

Bertha and Karl in an early Benz motorwagen

Karl and Bertha in an 1894 Benz Victoria. Photo by Fronteras, Wikimedia Commons

“Only one person remained with me in the small ship of life when it seemed destined to sink. That was my wife. Bravely and resolutely she set the new sails of hope.” Karl is acknowledged as the inventor of the first automobile and Bertha remains his most avid supporter, growing the auto business by his side where she stays until he dies in 1929. On her 95th birthday — 3 May 1944 — she celebrates by attending a ceremony memorializing her late husband with an honorary doctorate and bestowing upon him the posthumous title of Honourable Senator from his alma mater, Technical University of Karlsruhe. She passes away quietly at home two days later.

But did you know…

Mercedes-Benz is just the tip of the Bertha iceberg

Bertha plaque outside of pharmacy

Plaque outside “world’s first filling station.” Photo by 4028mdk09, Wikimedia Commons

  • What Bertha did that fateful trip in 1886 made her the first person in the world — not woman but person — to complete a long-distance drive in a motor car. She traveled 130 miles round trip. First. Time. Ever.
  • The original path she took was officially approved as the Bertha Benz Memorial Route in 2008, and is considered a course “of the industrial heritage of mankind.” Along the 194 km of road, there are signs commemorating various stops along Bertha’s trek.
  • Although Bertha financed the development of the Benz Motorwagen, which would earn her patent rights today, married women of that time were not allowed to own a patent alongside their husband EVEN IF THEY PAID FOR IT.
  • The patent Bertha financed  — DRP 37435 — is known as “the birth certificate of the automobile.”
  • The Bertha Benz Challenge was first run along her road in 2011 and was open only to innovative, forward-thinking vehicles — hybrids, alternative fuels, electric, unique styles and designs — and is now conducted annually.
  • Every two years, Germany celebrates Bertha with a parade of antique cars along her route.
  • Outside of the pharmacy where Bertha stopped for the ligroin — which still stands to this day — there is a statue erected to commemorate her and her sons and it is officially recognized as the world’s “first filling station.”
  • Bertha noted all of the hurdles faced during that long drive — no gears, no brake pads, wheel issues, etc. She brought those home to Karl, showed him what needed to change and based on her notes, certain equipment is now standard on all cars.
  • In 2016, Bertha joined her husband in the Automotive Hall of Fame, making The Benzes the first and only married couple to earn that honor — Karl was inducted in 1984.

Without a “Mercédès” there would only be “Benz”

The Mercédès part of our tale begins with her father, Emil Jellinek, who has a thing for pushing boundaries and being, well, pushy. A wealthy self-made businessman — insurance is his game — and son of the famous rabbi Adolf Jellinek, he has a mansion in Nice, a home in Vienna, and names his first daughter the Spanish word for “favor”, “kindness”, “mercy”, “pardon” — Mercédès. Emil comes to believe her name is his good luck charm when his business thrives after her birth and as he becomes enamored by the new motorcars he’s seeing around Nice, and he purchases three off the bat, naming them all “Mercedes.” A fan of Wilhelm Maybach’s designs, he buys and sells more autos he again call Mercedes and starts racing cars under the pseudonym, “Mr. Mercedes.”  

Emil Jellinek racing as "Mr. Mercedes."

First Semmering Race on 27 August 1899. Class winner Emil Jellinek in driver’s seat of his Daimler 16 hp “Phoenix” racing car, seated next to him is Hermann Braun.

Emil becomes Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft’s (Daimler Motors Corporation, aka DMG), most influential and annoying client, strongly suggesting they make the Daimlers faster, stronger, promising he’ll buy several if they do. They comply and he sells one to Baron Arthur de Rothschild literally on the road after his revved-up DMG leaves the Baron’s car in the dust. He unloads the rest almost as quickly to other high-end customers. The word spreads and even after the death of DMG factory foreman, Wilhelm Bauer behind the wheel of the new faster, more powerful model, Emil demands they push their motorwagens further, convincing the company NOT to get out of racing, telling them that doing so is akin to committing “commercial suicide.” He writes to their offices, “If you do not enter, the conclusion will be drawn that you are unable to enter.”

DMG keeps racing.

Mercédès Jellinek when her father named the brand

Mercédès Jellinek, Age 11

Then on 2 April 1900 — not even a month after Gottlieb Daimler’s untimely death and before Mercédès’ eleventh birthday — Papa Jellinek forever immortalizes his demure little girl. He’s not looking for the car of today or even tomorrow. What he wants is “the car of the day after tomorrow.” He comes up with design ideas to help manage the issue of overturns with a powerful engine and higher speeds, and promises to pay 550,000 Goldmark ($257 million and some change in today’s U.S. dollars/ $226 million euros) in exchange for the following:

  • 36 cars designed to his specifications
  • Exclusive rights to act as selling agent for this new brand and its models
  • Name it Daimler-MERCEDES

The company agrees and goes on to patent the name with Emil legally changing his family’s surname to Jellinek-Mercedes.

 

Meanwhile, the namesake little girl is doing what well-bred, upper-class ladies of that era do — ride horses, enjoy tea with friends, leave calling cards. Although she poses for a picture behind the wheel of one of “her” cars at age 17, she doesn’t drive, has no interest in the new motorwagens, and is incredibly shy about the attention shown her. The automobiles take off like mad, with Benz the Mercedes’ only true competition, and by the end of World War I as other “luxury” brands fail in an inflation riddled, shell-shocked Europe, DMG and Benz partner up to stay afloat, officially becoming Mercedes-Benz on 28 June 1926.

At the time of the Mercedes-Benz merger, Mercédès is in her late 30’s, living her life under the radar. Three years later, the well-bred young lady who inspires her father to change the family name, passes away before her 40th birthday of bone cancer and for a time, the Mercédès behind the brand is forgotten.

And today?

As of the end of 2018, Mercedes-Benz is the second most valued car brand behind Toyota. It sells 2.4 million units in that year alone, has seen year-over-year growth for the last five years and is found in every country around the world —

2-seat Mercedes-Benz Classic

Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster, built in 1960’s. Photo by Lothar Spurzem, Wikimedia Commons

from two-seaters…

Alternative fuel Mercedes-Benz concept

Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive Concept at Mondial de l’Automobile Paris 2012. Photo by Overlaet, Wikimedia Commons

… to alternative fuels…

classic Mercedes-Benz truck

Mercedes-Benz LP333 (1960). Photo by Henrik Sandelbach, Wikimedia Commons

… to commercial trucks and beyond.

Just the beginning…

So continues the tale of Mercédès and Bertha — the icon maker and the industry launcher. Almost a century after the actions these two women put in motion forever bound them together, the brand they spawned — Mercedes-Benz — is still creating “the car of the day after tomorrow.”

Mercédès and Bertha

Mercédès Jellinek at age 15, Courtesy of Mercedes-Benz Archives, and Bertha Benz, Wikimedia Commons

Not bad for a stubborn 19th-century housewife and a shy daddy’s girl.

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AutoMobility LA 2017: Vehicle Upstarts (Day 4)

Part Four of our four-part series recapping the summit’s four days of exhibits, announcements and interactivity

vehicle upstarts are center stage in Day 4

Day 4 of AutoMobility features alternatives to the car

As AutoMobility LA ended, the Los Angeles Auto Show prepared to begin. With that transition came some interesting vehicle upstarts — smaller car maker reveals and first time exhibitors, most of whom offered alternative fuels, specialty automobiles and various takes on the electric bicycle. It also brought about the last of the big car company announcements and a chance for summit attendees to browse the various exhibits at their leisure.

One of the iconic vehicle upstarts kicks off the green revolution

one of the iconic vehicle upstarts shows off alt fuel

Toyota’s Tri-Gen facility overview and hydrogen burning semi

The first of the vehicle upstarts was one of the largest automakers — Toyota. The Japanese car company was the featured vehicle maker of the last morning of AutoMobility LA and presented its innovative future vision in a big way. Toyota has made no secret about its belief that hydrogen fuel cell technology is the wave of the future. They recently deployed a fully functional Class A semi-truck that towed 80,000 pounds of freight only powered by hydrogen, which has just started being used throughout the Los Angeles area. The legendary company proved it maintains its position as one of the most storied vehicle upstarts with the announcement. It also enhanced to its role as an innovator with alternative fuels by revealing it is also opening a new facility in Long Beach, California, called Tri-Gen, which will be the first megawatt sized carbon fuel-cell power generation plant with hydrogen fuel in the world. It will use California agricultural waste, hydrogen and water to generate electricity. It will be able to generate enough power to light up 350 average sized homes and renew the fuel cells of 1500 vehicles.

This announcement was soon followed by the awarding of the 2018 Green Car of the Year sponsored by Green Car Journal. The finalists were:

  • Honda Accord
  • Honda Clarity
  • Hyundai Ioniq
  • Nissan Leaf
  • Toyota Camry

The Honda Clarity — arriving at dealerships nationwide on December 1st — earned the top spot. Other awards for 2018 Green SUV of the Year, 2018 Green Connected Car of the Year and 2018 Green Luxury Car of the Year will be announced at the Washington Auto Show in January.

Nissan channels the Force

vehicle upstarts like Nissan create experiences

Imperial Storm Troopers guard Nissan’s reveal

Another of the iconic vehicle upstarts, Nissan, expanded on its relationship with the galaxy far, far away. Although the auto giant announced its partnership with the Star Wars franchise the day before, this was a day when the carmaker was able to share more about the collaboration. With the upcoming Star Wars: The Last Jedi releasing in theaters on December 15th, Nissan has committed to creating immersive experiences of VR and AR in various dealerships around the country that take customers into the Star Wars universe while in the showroom. To heighten this, the company brought out stormtroopers and a souped up Nissan Titan that incorporated the features of the Imperial Walkers.

vehicle upstarts go all in for effect

Nissan Titan gets an Imperial walker makeover

The new guard, customization and retro cool

the vehicle upstarts show off their wares

The final day of the summit included smaller vehicle companies presenting unique options in the automotive and transportation space. These intriguing vehicle upstarts included:

  • Reds from Redspace, a fully electric prototype built to deal with the issues of the Megacities of China like
  • Polaris Slingshot, which introduced a new class of vehicle called the autocycle that offers all the benefits of a motorcycle without requiring a motorcycle license and was demo’d by NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace
  • Saleen, a boutique carmaker with 30 years under his belt introducing two new high-powered, luxury class sports cars
  • Sondors, an electric 3-seater inspired by a walk along the beach to be offered at a cost of only $10,000 and in the midst of seeking funding through crowdsourcing
  • Ampere, the 2-seater electric vehicle going for $9,900
  • Electric bicycles/scooters ranging from foldable (URB-E) to sleek (Propella) to retro-styling (Phantom Bikes)

It was also a time to indulge in a walk through The Garage, a place to show off all things customized and aftermarket, and the Galpin Auto Sports’ exhibit promoting its customization prowess. These two areas were a reminder of the power of the car and how much it still energizes, inspires and draws us.

vehicle upstarts keep customization alive

Galpin Auto Works and The Garage show off customization

vehicle upstarts pump up nostalgia

A tricked-out Mach IV from Galpin Auto Works

The last day was a seamless melding of the old and the new, proof that being one of the vehicle upstarts is more the rule than the exception as all were reminded of the auto revolution that’s no longer coming, but here. Even as things move forward, those things that are held dear by the old guard are influencing the new, and are finding ways to utilize the world of autonomy and alternative fuels to their benefit rather than let it throw them off their games.

A bridge from the past to the future

the old and the new of vehicle upstarts

Clockwise from top left: Camaro Hot Wheels 50th Anniversary Exhibit; Subaru 50th Anniversary timeline; Honda NeuV concept – utilizes AI and the “emotion engine” to detect and learn from drivers’ emotions and past decisions to suggest reactions to road conditions; Toyota 2018 FV2 concept — like the Honda NeuV, uses AI to detect driver’s emotions and assist in reactions based on past operator performance

AutoMobility made it clear that the goal in automotive revolution is not just to prepare us all for the inevitability of pure autonomous driving, hydrogen/electric cars, and fleets of rideshares that make our own vehicles obsolete. It also acknowledges that the love of the automobile as we know it is not only not going away anytime soon, but could very well keep growing.

the old guard proving they're still vehicle upstarts

The 2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid Minivan — America’s first; Volkswagen Buzz concept

Such stalwarts as the Chrysler Pacifica mini-van entering the 21st century by offering the first hybrid in its class for 2018, and the Volkswagen Buzz, an electric microbus version of the beloved VW Minibus slated for a 2022 release, prove that this bridging of yesterday and today are taking place to exciting results. The car appears to be here to stay, and AutoMobility LA shows that by embracing the revolution at hand and the unique players who are entering it as never before, the auto industry has an opportunity to become much stronger in the long run.

 

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AutoMobility LA 2017: Embrace Vehicle Revolution (Day 2)

Part Two of our four-part series recapping the summit’s four days of exhibits, announcements and interactivity

the vehicle revolution continues on day 2

Day 2 of AutoMobility LA 2017

The second day of AutoMobility LA proved to be all about preparing the auto industry for the profound changes here and to come. It included looking at driverless futures, alternative fuels, more inclusive service for consumers, and broaching concerns about declining car sales, among other things. The entire day was an information fest that brought about a great deal of good conversation during breaks. Some of the highlights featured key players in the automobile industry and thought-leaders in tech clearly showing us all that the vehicle revolution is at hand.

vehicle revolution BMW style

Board Member of BMW Group, Peter Schwarzenbauer, presents the future

2021 is the magic year for BMW

BMW will launch autonomous vehicles by 2021, and is currently offering car sharing through its DriveNow and ReachNow services in Europe and select U.S. cities, respectively.

Hyundai partners to bring service your way

Hyundai expands on its innovative BlueLink with Smartcar, and presents partnerships with Washos and WaiveCar

Hyundai has entered into partnerships with the Mountain View, California, startup Smartcar (not SmartCar from Daimler, but Smartcar, a connected car API for developers), which expands the automaker’s BlueLink service, WaiveCar — a free electric car sharing service accessed via an app on your smartphone — and Washos, a mobile car washing program that comes to wherever you are to wash your car. All of this is to make owning a Hyundai even more appealing.

Dealers and the Vehicle Revolution: Nothing to fear, but ourselves

dealers embrace the vehicle revolution

Four heavy hitters in the world of automotive sales discussed concerns over the changing landscape of vehicle ownership. All announced this is a dream time for dealers, not a time to give in to fear. Opportunities for transforming car dealing and engagement have never been more expansive. By embracing rather than denying these changes and the vehicle revolution as a whole, dealers are poised to become more valuable to both car buyers and the industry in general rather than less. Some ideas on how to work within this new normal were: flexibility in ownership, subscription models — the ability to flip your car as often as you like during a lease term; manufacturers building stronger relationships with their dealers; establishing dealers as experts in the new technologies so that consumers trust them as the go-to when in need of assistance with autonomy and alternative fuels; and optimizing and personalizing the automobile business by putting a stronger focus on that consumer/dealer relationship while bringing actual transaction times down to no more than five minutes to complete.

Waymo sets the standard

Waymo leads the way in the vehicle revolution

CEO of Waymo, John Krafcik

Twenty-three different cities, over four million miles on public roads and 25,000 cars running in a simulated environment show that Waymo has been setting the standard all autonomous and driverless vehicle makers follow since 2009. CEO John Krafcik discussed the challenges of weather, Waymo’s partnership with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), and the fact that the company’s sole purpose is to create a “proper driverless car.” Not shying away from the hurdles autonomous vehicles are facing, Krafcik stood behind the need to keep testing, and the belief that the transmitter bubble on top of the car provides a level of trust and comfort to potential riders/drivers.

Toyota discovers a happy medium

TRI comes to terms with autonomy

Gil Pratt, CEO of Toyota Research Institute (TRI) presents his team’s findings

Gil Pratt, the CEO of the Toyota Research Institute (TRI) took a look through the different autonomous driving options Toyota is investigating — Guardian and Chauffeur. Guardian is a driver assist program while Chauffeur manages the drive completely.

Looking at the pros and cons of both as he discussed where autonomy is going and what makes the most sense for it, Pratt announced that Guardian is the path TRI is taking as the think tank moves forward with connected vehicles.

WayRay wins the day

WayRay named number 1

WayRay wins Grand Prize and an onstage mentoring session

The second day of AutoMobility LA included a presentation of the award for the winner of the 2017 Top Ten Automotive Startups. The honor went to WayRay, an innovative heads-up display system that is more interactive, easier to navigate and takes up less space on your car’s windshield.

Personal, private flying machines and a pop culture dream come true

Back to the Future brought to life

The DeLorean DR7-VTOL aircraft

Among the notable presentations was one featuring two innovative companies looking into personal flying machines, a vivid reminder that a real vehicle revolution is taking place. Sandi Adam, CMO for Zunum Aero, a company that plans to bring hybrid electric flight to the masses in 2022, was joined by Paul DeLorean, the CEO of DeLorean Aerospace, makers of what many say will be the first flying car. If the Paul DeLorean name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s the nephew of John DeLorean, whose iconic metal car took Marty McFly Back to the Future in the 1980s.

Food for thought

AutoMobility LA ended its second day with a networking mixer that allowed for further discussion on the new ideas presented and what a vehicle revolution means for the industry. With all of the information that had been shared, there was a great deal of anticipation for day three when exhibits would be opened and the ability to experience some of the hardware mentioned over the first two days would be possible.

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