Karl Benz

By JASON STEIN WHEELBASE COMMUNICATIONS Modified: April 9, 2010 at 10:42 am •  Published: April 9, 2010
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The history books heap a lot of praise on Karl Benz: a wonderful idea man and a gentleman who took a single idea and nurtured it into something that would be remembered as simply astonishing.

But maybe that one day, a full 14 years before he was granted his first patent for a moving automobile, is the day to remember most.

Benz thought he saw something in Bertha Ringer, a quiet but determined German woman. What he couldn't have imagined on that afternoon in 1872 when the two were married, was a partnership that helped plant the seeds for an empire.

What's the real secret behind Karl Friedrich Benz, a man often accepted as the inventor of the motorcar? Bertha Benz.

What's the real secret behind the foundation of one of the great auto empires? Perhaps it was Karl Benz's ability to draw strength from those around him.

If ever a man depended on the energy of his spouse to pull him through, Benz was that man. Historians say that to talk about Benz without mentioning Bertha is to tell only half the story; and the tale is a fantastic one.

Karl Benz was born the son of an engine driver in 1844 in Baden Muehlburg, Germany, during a time of widespread innovation and emerging technologies. In Benz's backyard, the first railway line had already begun running through the country. Steamships, new production and industry were becoming a way of life.

Like many other inventors, Benz was on the cusp of a bursting movement. As a young man he worked for a number of different companies as a draftsman, designer and manager before forming his own mechanics firm in 1871 in Mannheim. Benz was a whiz when it came to manufacturing; he was hopeless when it came to finances. Bertha saved the day.

When it looked like Benz was going to lose his shop to his business partner, barely a year after forming it, Bertha came along with a dowry prematurely cajoled from her parents. When Benz turned to the two-stroke engine in the hopes of powering a horseless tricycle, Bertha pushed him to continue, helping to finance the project by hustling jobs for her husband's shop.

He was the dreamer. She was the financer. The rest was history.

With a good bit of financial security, Benz's company would be successful designing industrial engines, but Benz wanted a "motor carriage." Unlike other designers who were developing and installing engines in an ordinary carriage, Benz wanted to produce not only his engine but the whole vehicle. And, at last, the partnership really came to life.

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