Celebrating Women in Motoring


When it comes to the development of motoring women receive very little credit. It is quite interesting to note that motoring as we know it today was significantly shaped by women. It was my duty today to unearth the ploys by women in history which have made our lives as motorist safer and more convenient.

Meet Bertha Benz, and as you may have already guessed she was the wife of the founder of Mercedes-Benz motor company, Karl Benz. On 5 August 1888 Bertha made history and also did something which neither her husband nor any other man was brave enough to do. She embarked on the very first long distance drive. She travelled a total of 212km! It may not seem like much by today’s standards but in those days, when vehicles where only used to go get milk and bread at the local grocery shop, this was astounding. Cars back then did not even have fuel tanks because there was never a need as no one even dreamt that a car could go that far. So she had to work her way around covering this long journey with a vehicle that could only hold less than 5 litres of fuel directly in its carburettor.

The main aim of the trip by Mrs Benz was to prove her husband was wrong by not marketing the vehicle as being capable of doing long trips. She took this trip without the knowledge of her husband or the authorities. The only people who knew of the trip were her 13 and 15 year old sons who were part of this trip. The boys had to push the car over a lot of the hills which they encountered. As a result of this a low range gear was developed which would allow for cars to drive up slopes without muscle power assisting them.

Mrs Benz and her sons had to make countless stops at pharmacies during their trip. The stops at pharmacies had nothing to do with any one falling ill but were actually for refuelling the car. In those days there were no fuel stations and pharmacies were the only places that supplied fuel to the general public.

Bertha Benz arrived successfully at her destination and returned back home covering a total of 212km. Her trip helped with many alterations which were then made on the car. Superwoman.

The Bertha Benz Memorial route

The story of Bertha Benz is such a contrast to that of women in Saudi Arabia who were not allowed to drive at all until recently. 2018 is a significant year for women in motoring because it is the year which the very first Saudi Arabian woman was granted a driving license! Up until now women in Saudi Arabia were not allowed to drive cars and it was a criminal offense to be found driving a car as a woman. The laws have changed and from June 2018 Saudi Arabian women were allowed to take their driving test.

First Saudi Arabian woman to receive a driving license.

Have you ever driven a car with faulty windshield wipers on a rainy day? Basically you can’t because the rain impairs your vision so much that you would probably just drive the car into a lamp post. Fortunately there are windshield wipers to avoid this. It seems like second nature to have windshield wipers and something which should have been an obvious add on to all vehicle. However, until Mary Anderson invented the windshield wipers the only way to deal with precipitation was to open the windshield and let all the snow or rain come in and soak you up. This classy lady wouldn’t allow that and invented the first windshield wipers which were hand operated but did the job pretty well. What a heroin.

Mary Anderson and a sketch of the windshield wipers which she invented

Imagine driving around in one of Mzansi’s cities without any indicators. It would be chaos! Yes, you guessed it. It was a woman that came up with the first mechanical turn signals. Florence Lawrence, a movie star, is the lady behind mechanical turn signals. At the touch of a button there would be a flag which is raised and lowered this would indicate to other motorists which direction one’s vehicle would be moving towards and allow them enough time to react to this and avoid collisions.

Florence Lawrence, inventor of the turn signal and brake signal

As if that was not enough Florence took it a step further by inventing a braking signal. This is what we know today as brake lights. Florence’s brake signal were slightly different to today’s ones, when a driver stepped on the brake pedal on his/her vehicle a sign would be raised at the back of the car which read “STOP”, pretty smart.

Lawrence in a Lozier touring car photo courtesy of Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research

Let us give honor to the Goddesses.

Marcus Phathwa


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