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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Parking Technology: Saving Time and Space

self-parking technology for connected cars

Finding a place to store your car, whether short- or long-term, has been an issue almost as long as the horseless carriage has been around. The current influx of automobiles on the road, however, has made simply parking that much harder. This growth of  vehicles on the street has added unforeseen circumstances to the parking mix.  Things like traffic congestion, higher CO2 emissions, exorbitant fees, and parking so far away from your destination, you need to call another vehicle for that ”last mile” are big concerns. This has led to innovative advances in parking technology ranging from License Plate Recognition (LPR) to monitor who does and does not belong in a particular space to working with the brains of connected cars to support self-parking solutions.

The new way to grab a parking space

interactive parking space locator

Parking technology has been advancing for some time. The “drive in and find a spot” off-street parking lot and “parallel park it then drop in a quarter” on-street parking meter have already evolved. Advances in LPR technology help law enforcement and parking managers monitor license plates in off-street parking structures, while penalties for on-street parking expirations have decreased thanks to “type in your text number to receive a ‘time’s almost up’ alert” meters (at which you can pay with a credit or debit card). Those shifts, however, still aren’t enough to battle space limitations and traffic congestion. New, innovative parking technology is being enlisted and is typically split across four distinct areas: parking software solutions, automated parking structure systems, parking apps, and self-parking capability in connected cars.

Parking software and how it works

This parking technology provides interactive solutions that allow users to manage and oversee various parking garages, spaces and lots from a desktop and/or mobile device. Companies gather information on open spots, infractions, security issues, flow and more through the cloud and share that information with drivers and law enforcement. Per Capterra.com, a company that provides comparisons and info on various software over a range of businesses, the following three solutions are among the best parking management products.

ParkAdmin

Created by Tomahawk Technologies, the Operations Commander (OPS-COM) program allows clients to pay for their parking permits, violations and check their accounts via mobile or the internet. OPS-COM works with universities, colleges, local governments and other organizations.

iParq Parking Management System

This software manages parking permits, citations and advance sales for events as well as real-time cash and credit transactions. Its clients range from places of higher education to private operators and more.

Silvertrac Software

This is both a security and parking management software. It offers several services that streamline not only guard duties, but parking issues and general maintenance of sites. It makes it possible to handle all needs digitally and for security guards to manage several sites via their smartphones if needed.

Parking with robots

Automated parking solutions are those that incorporate robotic systems and space saving techniques to streamline and revolutionize existing garages. The vendors are innovative, presenting and providing both the hardware and software to support the goal of smarter use of space and time. Three of the companies currently building this unique parking technology are Parkmatic, Pari Car Parking and Perfect Park.  Each of these companies provides a unique automated system that uses robotics and stacking to park cars more efficiently. Drivers relinquish their vehicle at a designated spot at the car park, activate the system at a kiosk and the automobile is then whisked away to be automatically parked. When the owner returns, he or she retrieves the automobile usually by punching in a code at a keypad or inserting a card/parking ticket. The vehicle is automatically picked up and returned to him or her.

This parking technology is a huge space saver. No matter how proficient we may be at putting our cars into a parking spot, we have inherent limitations: ourselves. We need a certain amount of wiggle room to exit and enter our vehicles. Automated parking garages maneuver cars into smaller spaces without causing damage to the car or discomfort for the driver.

Automated garages are more prevalent overseas than in the U.S., like the nine-story robotic facility at the Emirates Financial Tower (EFT) in Dubai, which was unveiled in 2013. However, with the rise in traffic congestion, urban sprawl, population growth and loss of space, more of these robotic parking lots are being built in America.

The all-inclusive Bosch solution

At the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, the 130+ year-old engineering and electronics company, Bosch, presented an as yet unnamed all-electric, highly interactive, customizable concept car. Parking technology is included in the vehicle, which not only autonomously parks your car, but locates a space for you.

On the Bosch website, mobility solutions include self-park capability as well as parking innovation to manage lots, point a driver to an available parking space and create smarter parking garages, just to name a few. This all-inclusive solution claims to be capable of decreasing CO2 emissions due to lowering the need to drive around looking for a spot and increase free time by 60 hours per year per driver.

Parking technology in the mobile ageapp enabled parking technology

Other entrants in the parking technology race are parking apps, either city sponsored or independent, that help drivers find spaces and save money. This digital parking technology is easily accessed via your mobile-device and helps drivers by locating open spots, helping them reserve and pay for spaces in advance and more—all from their cell phone or tablet. The apps cut down on the time spent and gridlock caused cruising around looking for a parking spot.

Self-parking technology expanding

While fully autonomous vehicles may still be in the test phase, many models are equipped with self-parking technology, also known as parking assist systems. Self-parking is accomplished two ways: vehicles equipped to literally park themselves and cars that assist you with parking.

But how does all of this work? Self-parking technology is most frequently used for parallel parking. For the most part, even the smartest vehicles require someone behind the wheel to navigate into a parking spot. Once the self-parking system is engaged, which is usually done by a flick of a switch or the press of a button on the center console, it uses sensors to detect an appropriately sized space in which to pull.  These sensors work in two different ways: ultrasonic and electromagnetic.

Ultrasonic technology

self-parking technology using ultrasonic sensors

Ultrasonic sensors attach to the front of a vehicle’s bumper and calculate the distance to obstacles via sound waves. They emit an audio signal when another vehicle or object is sensed—the system can determine the distance between the automobile itself and whatever deterrent it’s facing. The closer the car gets to the object, the faster the signal sounds. These are fairly inexpensive and can detect obstacles even when the car is idle. However, affixing the sensor to the bumper can mar the car’s appearance, tow bars and bike racks can’t be attached or they will block the sensors, and the field of detection can only sense front to back, often missing small objects and the radio waves scatter on steep inclines.

Electromagnetic detection

self-parking technology using electromagnetic waves

Electromagnetic sensors work off of electromagnetic waves that create a field around the bumper so that whenever an object enters the wave barrier, a signal is triggered. These can be placed inside the bumper and used with tow bars and bike racks. They are more expensive than ultrasonic and can only detect objects when the vehicle is moving.

In addition to these sensors, there are in-vehicle cameras that capture the environment and obstacles around the automobile and send it to the car’s on-board computer. The driver then manages the gears and braking while the self-parking system steers and maneuvers. This makes parallel parking easier and faster, alleviating traffic congestion to a certain extent and eliminating fender benders.

Parking technology goes truly driverless

console showing self-parking technology

As the self-driving car becomes more of a reality, advanced self-parking systems are as well. This means regulations need to be put in place to make the technology a reality on the streets. In January 2016, then Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary, Anthony Foxx, approved a request by BMW to initiate the self-parking technology for its 2016 7 Series models sold in the U.S. The move is part of DOT’s goal to support continued development of self-driving car technology. Regulations require the driver to stop the car, place it in park and remain standing within six feet of the automobile as the vehicle is parked via a remote control that prompts the sensors and cameras on the car so the automated system can maneuver it into a space successfully. The driver has the option to stop the process at any time.

Concerns over self-parking technologies and robotic garages

sample of what could happen with self-parking technology and automatic garages

As with driverless cars in general, there are plenty of concerns over automating the operation of a machine that engages with the public in so many different ways. The idea of making something as delicate as navigating into a parking space or garage, whether on-street or off-street, completely autonomous raises a good many questions about safety. As smart parking becomes more truly driverless, issues with failures surface and ensuring that these problems don’t continue is the number one priority.

Even with all of this, however, robotic parking garage and self-parking technology innovations are bound to be implemented. The glitches of the first attempts are now being worked out and consideration is being taken as to what is required to make both successful around the world.

A smart answer to traffic congestion

Parking throughout the world is at a premium and our tendency to slow down to a crawl to make sure we grab an open spot causes congestion. And when we slow down, that slows everyone behind us down… and the ones behind them… and the ones behind them…

This is called the “ripple effect” or “traffic wave.” It’s a common cause of gridlock on the highway. With parking, however, this is exacerbated, because not only is the offending automobile going at a snail’s pace, once it finds the spot, it needs to maneuver into it. This street parking debacle during busy and peak times causes frustration, tons of CO2 emissions and more congestion.

This is where smart parking technologies can alleviate the problem. The ability to be guided to a parking space quickly and efficiently helps the driver go directly to a spot without having to cruise around and hold up traffic. Add to that self-parking technology which intends to make that parallel parking moment faster and smoother. While other cars have to wait while the vehicle is going into the spot no matter what, the systems being created today greatly decrease wait time and restore the flow of traffic.

open space on the street

In need of solutions that make space

2016 saw an historic high in auto sales in the U.S.—a record 17.5 million new cars were sold—and 2017 looks to be on target to show a steady rise globally. With the automotive industry putting more and more cars on the road, finding a place to store them for the short or long term is going to be even more difficult. Automated parking garages and self-parking technology are solutions that make sense for a more space efficient, congestion-free future in our cities and on our roads.

 

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