By: Annie Boss
Women’s History Month is coming to a close, and we’d like to finish on a high note with Part Two of our Trailblazing Women in Automotive Series. We’re here to honor some of the important and impactful contributions made by women in the automotive industry.
While Emily Post may be more famous for her numerous writings on etiquette (get your elbows off the table!), she also had a true “drive” for women’s rights to take command of their own vehicles, chaperone-free.
In a series of articles titled “By Motors to the Fair”, published in Collier’s magazine in 1915, Post discussed the feasibility and comfortability of the cross-country road trip. Additionally, she was quite vocal that ladies were perfectly capable of hitting the road solo. It might seem innocuous to us folks in the year 2021, but in a time when there were constant efforts to limit and prohibit ladies getting behind the wheel, Post’s stance was quite progressive and contentious for the time. She was strongly of the option that women had a place on the road, which women now enjoy the right to roam freely.
If we have Mary Anderson to thank for windshield wipers, our gratitude should extend to Charlotte Bridgewood for taking Anderson’s creation and automating the idea so that wipers did not need to be hand-cranked while on the road. Bridgwood patented a design in 1917, labeled “Storm Windshield Cleaner”, that used automated rollers to clear the rain off your windshield.
However, Bridgwood’s patent ran out in 1920, and it was only after she lost the rights to her design that it became much more widely utilized. Her wipers were eventually fitted in cars a few years later, with Cadillac being the first to acknowledge the potential of the mechanism. It’s unfortunate that she has received little praise or recognition for her common-sense solution, so BestRide would like to formally thank Charlotte for her incredible impact on the automotive industry!
Ingenuity and inventiveness must run in the family, because Charlottle Bridgwood’s daughter Florence Lawrence made her own mark on automotive history with some mechanical designs of her own creation. While often touted as “The First Movie Star,” today we turn the spotlight on Lawrence for her design of mechanisms that would be the precursors to the blinker and the brake light.
Folks may be lax in using their turn signal nowadays, but just imagine the world when there were NO turn signals. Lawrence saw the need for a solution, and she went to work. Thus, the “auto-signaling arms” were born. With the press of a button, a flag on a car’s rear bumper was lowered, signaling to other drivers which way the car was going to turn. Her brake signal design worked in a similar fashion: when a driver hit the brakes, a “STOP” sign popped up from the rear bumper. However, she never patented either of these designs, and as a result received no profits or credit for such impactful inventions.
It is hard to imagine the world of automotive without Bertha Benz. Though her husband gained fame for the invention of the automobile, it was Bertha who funded the Benz Patent Motor Car which would go on to become Mercedes-Benz. Without her financial backing and unwavering faith in her husband’s idea, the evolution of the motorized vehicle might have looked vastly different.
Shortly after her husband, Karlz Benz, presented their newly invented the Patent-Motorwagen automobile, Bertha set out to prove the vehicle’s longevity and reliability with an impromptu cross-country trip to her mother’s home. With her teenage sons in tow, and without the consent of her husband or the authorities, Bertha made the world’s first long-distance car voyage. During her trip, she simultaneously performed the world’s first (and, at the time, most thorough) car test. While the trip proved wildly successful and garnered intense publicity for the new brand, it also helped inform the public about what improvements needed to be made to enhance the capabilities of the automobile. These improvements would become commonplace in all automobiles, including additional gears to account for hilly terrain, brake lining, and coolant systems! Thanks to Bertha for being a pioneer on the first of many girl’s road trips.
The next time you sit in your driveway and use your car as a serene escape from the busy world, be sure to thank Helene Rother for taking vehicle interior from drab to fab.
When Helene Rother fled Nazi-occupied France in 1941, it is doubtful that she truly knew what impact she would have on the automotive industry. As the first woman to join the interior styling staff at General Motors, she specialized in upholstery colors and fabric types, interior lighting, door hardware, and seat construction. After WWII, she helped re-focus the automotive design from basic and utilitarian to one of beauty and elegance. Rother’s natural eye for design would solidify her as an invaluable influence on the modern design of vehicle interiors. She was even posthumously inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 2020.
Here’s to the countless women of history who changed and shaped our future more than we’ll ever know. We know you deserve more than one month out of the year for your efforts to be praised, what else can we say besides- THANK YOU!