“Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz” - Motorwagen Nummer 3, Bertha Benz and the first test run of a car in 1888

5 August 1888, Bertha Benz, wife and business partner of Karl Benz, the inventor of the petrol-powered automobile, went with the horseless carriage on a long-distance drive, making her the  first person ever to make more than a test run with a car.
“Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz” (Janis Joplin)

A somewhat romantic illustration of Bertha and her two sons Eugen and Richard
refuelling at the Wiesloch apothecary shop.

The Benz Patent-Motorwagen Nummer 1, the first vehicle propelled by an internal combustion engine, was constructed and patented in 1886 but still had quite a lot of teething troubles and it took Benz and his small company in Mannheim two years more  to engineer something that was sellable – the “Motorwagen Nummer 3”, but probable buyers still regarded the vehicle as something of a folly. Bertha, who had invested her own capital in Benz’s firm and saw matters go south decided to take matters into her own hands. Thus, on a fine Sunday morning in August 1888, the year the German Empire saw two of its emperors dead and just had crowned the third, Bertha left a note on the kitchen table, saying that she took the car to visit her mother in Pforzheim, 60 miles away, and she and her two teenaged sons pushed the vehicle out of the company’s yard, started the engine out of earshot and moved off.

The Benz Patent-Motorwagen Number 3 of 1886

Motorwagen Nummer 3 was not exactly in series-production readiness yet, but Bertha was quite capable to deal with arising troubles by using hatpins and garters, thereby collecting valuable insights about the details of operating an automobile outside of a courtyard, such as an additional short gear for driving uphill or brake pads. The fuel tank wasn’t dimensioned for a long-distance drive anyway. Halfway between Mannheim and Pforzheim, the trio stopped the Motorwagen at a chemist’s in a town called Wiesloch and bought ligroin, petroleum ether used for spot removal, refuelled and made the village’s apothecary shop the world’s first petrol station. Chemists and drug stores would serve in this role well into the 20th century, especially in remote spots.

Carl and Bertha Benz, their daughter Klara and Fritz Held on a Benz Victoria during a trip near Schriesheim in 1894

Bertha arrived in Pforzheim in the evening and cabled her husband that everything was well – it was indeed. During silly season, the press tripped over themselves to report Bertha’s stunt, exactly what she had intended. Motorwagen Nummer 3 was no folly anymore all of a sudden, but an obviously safe and reliable method of commodious and personalised overland travel. The vehicle begun to sell and became the first automobile manufactured in series – that meant 25 cars, 20 years before the introduction of Ford’s “Model T”. Nonetheless, Bertha’s 60 miles’ drive from Mannheim to Pforzheim was something of a prime mover for a method of individual transport that would change the face of the Earth.