Celebrating women in automotive history (Pt. 1)

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Woman sitting on bumper bar of a car at Warwick Farm racecourse from The Powerhouse Museum.

Women hold a vital place in automotive history. (Photo Credit: Public Domain/Tom Lennon Collection/Wikipedia)

America’s love of the automobile has been equal opportunity for both sexes since the dawn of the industry. This was in spite of sexist Victorian ideas that prevailed in the U.S. during the early 20th century, when the automobile got its start. Here are some highlights of women in U.S. automotive history (with a few exceptions), some you may have heard of before, others not.

Bertha Benz can drive my car

Who was the first person to drive a car a significant distance? It didn’t happen in the U.S., but in Germany. It was Bertha Benz, the wife of inventor Carl Benz. On August 5, 1888, Bertha Benz took sons Richard and Eugen and hopped into a new Patent Motorwagen automobile. She drove them from Mannheim to Pforzheim, a 66-mile trip that was ostensibly a visit to Bertha’s mother. Not only was this the first long automotive drive, it was Bertha’s effort to prove to husband that the automobile definitely had a future.

Mary Anderson helped clean your windshield

In 1902, Mary Anderson became the first person on record to conceive of the windshield wiper. The idea came to her as she rode a New York City street car and realized that a mechanism with a rubber blade would be much more effective at cleaning class than the mixture of onions and carrots that had been used to repel water.

Anderson was granted a patent for the windshield wiper in 1903, and it is remarkably similar today to Anderson’s original design. By 1916, Anderson’s manual lever-operated invention became standard in automobiles.

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Alice Ramsey is the first woman to drive across the U.S.

Behind the wheel of a 30 hp Maxwell, Alice Ramsey became the first woman to drive solo across the U.S. and back when the 22-year-old departed New York en route to San Francisco on June 6, 1909. The 3,800-mile trip took 59 days, only 152 of the miles were on paved roads and Ramsey make the trip with no maps whatsoever. She changed 11 tires, repaired a broken brake pedal and cleaned the car’s spark plugs.

“Good driving has nothing to do with sex. It’s all above the collar,” Ramsey once said.

During her lifetime, Ramsey drove across the U.S. at least 30 times. In 2000, she became the first woman inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame.

CLICK HERE to continue your survey of women in automotive history by completing your journey through the hall of pioneers.

A woman driving in Saudi Arabia

Sources

Antique Automobile Club of America

CompareAutoInsurance.com: http://www.compareautoinsurance.com/top-10-female-race-car-drivers/

Esurance

Road & Travel Magazine

The Selvedge Yard: http://theselvedgeyard.wordpress.com/2009/09/29/fast-women-in-history-auto-racings-tough-female-pioneers/


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