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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Telematics: The Bridge to Your Connected Car

Telematics enables screen in carFrom automatic crash notification (ACN) to fleet management, Telematics is the “connection” that makes the connected car a wireless marvel of the automotive world.

Telematics is a hot topic these days. With the current focus on self-driving vehicles, connected cars, cyber security, and especially, rising levels of traffic fatalities, the communication network that makes it possible for your automobile to move and react on its own is rapidly innovating. Telematic solutions are more readily available for all vehicles and even mandated as standard in some countries. The technology’s origin is oddly similar to that of the Jeep, and its integration into day-to-day life has been as seamless as that ubiquitous, stalwart vehicle.  But what exactly is telematics?

The term “telematics” is a translation of “telematique.” This was coined by two French scientists in a 1978 report to the French government on the computerization of society. They combined “telecommunications” with “informatique.” Per the Oxford Dictionary, it is defined as “the branch of information technology which deals with the long-distance transmission of computerized information.” And this brings us to its origins.

U.S. armed forces initiative goes globally civilian

The United States Navy began experimenting with satellite navigation to track its nuclear submarines in the early 1960s. By using the “Doppler Effect”–shifts in the satellite’s radio signal–captains could accurately find a sub’s location in minutes. The Department of Defense (DoD) then took what naval scientists had learned and launched its first Navigation System with Timing and Ranging (NAVSTAR) satellite in 1978. By 1993, it included 24 satellites and became the Global Positioning System (GPS).

Today, GPS is owned by the U.S. Government and run by the United States Air Force (USAF). It operates on two different levels to accommodate the separation between military/government use and worldwide access: Precise Positioning Service (PPS) and Standard Positioning Service (SPS). PPS is accessible to U.S. Armed Forces, U.S. Federal agencies, and selected allied armed forces and governments. SPS is globally available to any and everyone free of charge.

A global collaboration

While GPS was being created in the United States, the European Parliament was seeking systems to achieve better road safety. They established a resolution in 1984 to investigate solutions, inviting the European Commission–a body representing the interests of all European countries as a whole–to suggest appropriate research. Studies began around current and future innovations in telecommunications and informatics to discover what, if any, possible application there may be. One of these was the GPS. Over the next several years, telematics evolved as a way to improve the following: road and vehicle safety, environmental impact, and transportation efficiency.

The European telematics solutions expanded upon the U.S. based GPS technology to create something wholly unique–a vehicle tracking and support system beyond turn-by-turn navigation. It took the information gathered via satellite and interfaced with the electronic control unit (ECU) in a car. This made it possible for the system to digitally sense not only where automobiles traveled, but how they behaved and the different situations they may encounter.

The first car company to propose driver assistance technology for its customers was General Motors (GM) and it wasn’t OnStar.

A 30 year-old vision realized 20 years ago

some auto brands with OEM telematics

OnStar was unveiled at the 1996 Chicago Auto Show and first offered to customers in the production models of 1997 Cadillacs. The system was the first time vehicle embedded telematics was broadly available on the market, but it wasn’t the first time GM pursued driver assistance technology.

Driver Aid, Information and Routing (DAIR) is a system that GM engineers designed in 1966 that was then installed in two prototype vehicles and used punch cards to aid with turn-by-turn navigation. The gaps on the cards represented the basic directions needed on a specific route. This made it possible to drive to a pre-chosen destination without a map. But DAIR didn’t stop there. It also proposed restructuring America’s roadways by burying magnetic sensors beneath the pavement. These sensors would receive communications on highway conditions and accident reports from relay stations set-up all over the country. This information would be sent to drivers via a Visual Sign Minder–a basic heads-up display–mounted on their dashboard. It was recommended as a response to the rapid highway expansion of the era.

Per the DAIR brief, “Today’s complex roadways, increased vehicle speeds and heavy traffic intensify the driver’s need for frequent directions and information. DAIR meets this need for increased safety and driving enjoyment with a simple, low-cost communications system.” Because of the extensive infrastructure overhaul that was required to bring the idea to life, however, DAIR never got beyond prototype. GM kept working and activated its 1960s vision 30 years later with OnStar.

Telematics OEMs and stand-alones

where OEM telematics are installed

The initial OnStar was a classic case of telematics original equipment manufacturer (OEM) implementation. An OEM is usually defined as parts from one manufacturer used to create an overall product sold by another. In the case of transportation it reflects vehicles coming off the factory floor with the automaker’s proprietary technology already installed. Per The Global Automotive OEM Telematics Market, a study conducted by Berg Insight, the number of OEM embedded systems will hit 159 million globally by 2020.

The reason for this push is primarily safety and many of the rooted systems will be rudimentary “first responder” based, such as the ACN telematics of Europe’s eCall and Russia’s ERA-GLONASS. By 2018, all cars in those two regions are mandated to come off the assembly line equipped with a telematic system built to react to accidents in two ways. The first is by automatically sending a signal to E112–Europe’s 911–when a connected car is involved in a crash. The second is by a motorist pushing a button on the telematics enabled dashboard to alert E112 of a collision or incident they’ve just witnessed. It’s a way of ensuring all drivers are protected–whether they have telematics or not.

 

In 2012, GM decided to make OnStar’s basic features available to everyone and created OnStar FMV (For My Vehicle). This dongle-based solution joined other systems– such as Verizon’s hum–that work through a car’s onboard diagnostics (OBD) portal. These standalones allow you to plug the telematic device into your OBD port and upload software into your car’s ECU to gain such benefits as navigation, hands-free calling and automatic crash notification (ACN). What it doesn’t give you that OEMs provide are more advanced features like unlocking your car via satellite.

The new world of usage-based insurance (UBI)

This telematic solution is also the brain behind usage-based insurance (UBI). UBI means exactly what the acronym stands for–usage-based insurance policies and premiums. Instead of crafting policies and charging motorists through statistics and analytics, UBI calculates based on how someone actually operates his or her car. Because the device is plugged into the car’s OBD, it gathers and sends driver behavior data back to insurance carriers. This has made it possible for policy flexibility and leads to charging more accurate rates and lowering costs for drivers who are at less risk.

Mobile telematics data gathering

The future of telematics has to do with mobile data gathering. Your smartphone is now able to collect the same information that was only available via OEM or dongles. Verizon’s hum is an example of a three-way system–speaker, OBD reader and cell phone. The speaker works like OnStar, which allows you to contact live emergency services with the touch of a button.

Drivewell from Cambridge Mobile Telematics, on the other hand, is testing mobile telematics technology that tracks your driving behavior with or without a “wireless tag device.” The optional  attachment fits on your windshield and sends the telematics data captured by your smartphone to either the company for diagnostic purposes or to your insurance carrier. The company has also added a unique gaming aspect to their telematic service by creating safe driving competitions and incorporating leaderboards. A recent trial in South Africa–where the traffic fatality rate is among the highest in the world–showed a 30 percent increase in better driving due to the play factor. It’s one of many data gathering software options showing more expansive ways the technology can be used in the non-commercial space. But telematics has long been an invaluable tool in commercial fleet use.

Fleet vehicle tracking with telematics

fleet of trucksVehicle telematics play an essential role for fleet management. The systems keep costs down, productivity up and drive the overall efficiency of commercial transportation by tracking vehicle movement, its status–does it need gas? Is it time for maintenance?–driver behavior and more. By attaching a telematic unit to each truck that wirelessly connects to a central hub in the fleet’s business office, managers can track the vehicle’s location, manage performance and monitor conditions for driver safety and protection. Incorporating the technology in the commercial vehicle industry has modernized it and made it a more efficient business.

These telematic devices are excellent commercial partners and have also been embraced by the U.S. government to help it manage the vast fleet of the General Services Administration (GSA).

Example of connecting cars to government with GSA

The GSA offers workspace to over 1 million federal employees, manages the preservation of 480+ historic buildings and handles the purchase and distribution of goods and services used by the federal government. Part of this agency includes GSA Fleet, which has been providing motor vehicles to 75+ participating agencies since 1954.

As of 2016, all GSA Fleet vehicles available for purchase have OEM telematics while lessees can choose installing a non-OEM telematic device. To better streamline this technology, GSA shifted from working with two different providers and awarded AT&T Mobility the Blanket Purchase Agreement (BPA). AT&T’s two-tiered solution–simple GPS vehicle tracking and full diagnostics–enables the federal government to keep tabs and maintain their spread out automobile inventory more efficiently and consistently.

Flexible and expansive path to safer, more efficient driving

Telematics are capable of everything from sending information back to auto insurance carriers to affect your premiums to automatically alerting emergency services when you’re in need of roadside assistance. What began, basically, as the GPS has grown to include such things as infotainment, hands-free calling and vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication. Companies all over the globe are embracing the technology in strategic and actionable ways.

In June, Visiongain released a report on the Top 20 OEM and Non-OEM connected car companies entitled Top 20 Connected Car Companies 2016: Leading Suppliers of Automotive In Vehicle Telematics By Service Provider Featuring Technologies For Safety, Security, Infotainment, Remote Diagnostics & Vehicle to Everything Communications. The 181-page report outlines the different strategies, strengths and futures of each company. Per the report, the companies to watch in both categories are as follows:

Top 10 Telematics OEMS

BMW AG

Daimler AG

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA)

Ford Motor Company

General Motors

Honda Motor Company

Tesla

Toyota Motor Corporation

Volkswagen Group

Volvo

Top 10 Telematics Non-OEMs

Apple Inc.

AT&T Inc.

Broadcom Corporation

Google Inc. (Android)

Qualcomm Inc.

Samsung

Sierra Wireless

Tech Mahindra Ltd.

Verizon Telematics

Visteon Corporation

Outlook for the future

As automobiles become more autonomous, the technology that enables their interaction with infrastructure and each other will continue to innovate. Moving forward, more governments will continue flexing auto legislation muscles to ensure vehicles driving on their country’s roads are the safest and most efficient–for the environment, motorists, pedestrians, cyclists and economy. This means expanding, innovating and pushing telematics even further as cars become smarter. It is the bridge that puts a zero fatality, eco-friendly future within our grasp.

 

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