July 3rd, 1886 – Karl Benz Unveils the First Automobile

Today-In-History

The Benz Patent-Motorwagen (or motorcar), built in 1886, is widely regarded as the first automobile; that is, a vehicle designed to be propelled by an internal combustion engine. The original cost of the vehicle in 1885 was $1,000 (equivalent to $26,248 in 2015).

The vehicle was awarded the German patent, number 37435, for which Karl Benz applied on January 29th, 1886. Following official procedures, the date of the application became the patent date for the invention once the patent was granted, which occurred in November of that year. Benz officially unveiled his invention to the public on July 3rd, 1886, on the Ringstrasse (Ringstraße) in Mannheim. About 25 Patent Motorwagens were built between 1886 and 1893.

benz-patent-motorwagen-nummer-1-04 680

Although Benz’s wife, Bertha, financed the development process, and would hold patent rights under modern law, as a married woman she was not allowed to apply for the patent. This, however, did not stop her from publicizing the Patent-Motorwagen in a unique manner: She took the Patent-Motorwagen No. 3, supposedly without her husband’s knowledge, and drove it on the first long-distance automobile road trip to demonstrate its feasibility as a means to travel long distances. That trip occurred in early August 1888, as the entrepreneurial lady took her sons Eugen and Richard, fifteen and fourteen years old, respectively, on a ride from Mannheim through Heidelberg, and Wiesloch (where she took on ligroin as a fuel at the city pharmacy, making it the first filling station in history), to her maternal hometown of Pforzheim.

Bertha Benz 680

As well as being the driver, Benz acted as mechanic on the drive, cleaning the carburetor with her hat pin and using a garter to insulate a wire. She refueled at the local pharmacy in Wiesloch and as the brakes wore down, Benz asked a local shoemaker to nail leather on the brake blocks, in doing so, inventing brake lining on the way. After sending a telegram to her husband of the arrival in Pforzheim, she spent the night at her mother’s house and returned home three days later. The trip covered 194 km (121 mi) in total.

In Germany, a parade of antique automobiles celebrates this historic trip of Bertha Benz every two years. In 2008, the Bertha Benz Memorial Route was officially approved as a route of industrial heritage of mankind, because it follows Bertha Benz’s tracks of the world’s first long-distance journey by automobile in 1888. Now everybody can follow the 194 km (121 mi) of signposted route from Mannheim via Heidelberg to Pforzheim (Black Forest) and back.


 

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