Prominent Women in Automotive History

As we celebrate Women’s History Month at OneRequest, we highlight some of the many accomplishments that women have given to the automobile world.

Bertha Benz
Bertha Benz

Shortly following the invention of the automobile by Bertha’s husband Carl, who finished the 1886 Benz Patent Motorwagen only after she contributed some of their wedding money, she took it upon herself to help with marketing.  The horseless carriage had been around for two years and was failing to really gain the interest and trust of the buying public.  Keep in mind that most roads were still dirt and navigation aids and street signs were not commonplace yet.  One day, Bertha decided to prove to the world how useful the Benz could be, and drove over 100 kilometers from Mannheim to Pforzheim, stopping along the way to fix various engine components with items like hatpins and garters.  Her voyage is, to this day, considered the first road trip!  

Margaret Wilcox

The preliminary days of motoring were exciting but often unpredictable as a result of open cabins and no climate control.  That was until Margaret Wilcox decided that motoring in winters could stand to be more enjoyable.  November 28th, 1983 marked the day that her patent was approved, and was the first to be issued in her name, not her husband’s.  The 1929 Ford Model A was the first mass-produced vehicle to be offered with heating. 

Mary Anderson
Mary Anderson’s illustration of her 1903 patented “window cleaning device.”

In 1902, while riding a trolley car in bad weather, Mary noticed that the driver was struggling to see through the windshield and was constantly getting out to wipe it clean. Certain there was a better way, Mary set out to make what we know as the first windshield wiper blades.  With the help of designing assistants, she produced the first working model and was granted US Patent Number 743,801 in 1903 for a “Window-cleaning device” for automobiles and other vehicles “for removing snow, rain, and sleet from the glass in front of the motorman.” The device involved a swinging metal arm attached to a window that was manually controlled by using a handle inside a car.

However, it wasn’t until 1920 after her patent had expired and the automotive industry had evolved that windshield wipers based on Mary’s basic design were fitted as standard on many cars.

Juliane Blasi & Nadya Arnaout

These designers were responsible for the exterior and interior of the second-generation BMW Z4 that debuted in 2009.  Marking a significant departure from the Chris Bangle era of flared surfaces, the E89 was a return to elegance and swooping lines.  The car debuted at the 2009 North American Auto Show in Detroit and quickly racked up several design awards including the 2009 International Design Excellence Award (IDEA), the 209 Eyes on Design Award for best production vehicle, the 2009 Red Dot Design Award, and the Scottish Drop Top of the Year Award 2009.  By the time production ended in 2016, over 118,000 had been built. 

Volvo Design Team
“YCC”

Swedish manufacturer Volvo made some noise in 2002 when it introduced the Your Concept Car, a design study that was the culmination of a ten-woman team “targeting the most demanding premium customer: the independent, professional woman.”  An ergonomic masterpiece, the car featured many stylistic and functional attributes that ultimately found their way into Volvo production cars.  Furthermore, the Volvo brand has made an effort to include a diverse design team to this day that still includes as much minority representation as any in the workplace. 

Susanne Quandt

As the daughter of Herbert & Johanna Quandt, investors responsible for the literal turnaround of the BMW brand, she is a nearly 20% shareholder in the company and the wealthiest woman in Germany with an estimated worth of $23.4 billion.  To this day, she maintains a supervisory role in the company as well as a few subsidiaries related to the automobile industry.  

Pioneering Women in Racing History

It would be remiss of us if we didn’t also mention the women who’ve changed motorsports. Here are a few female drivers who’ve followed their dream, and stirred up the racing game for the better:

First driver to race Le Mans – Odette Siko – June 21, 1930 

First F1 driver – Countess Teresa de Filippis – May 18, 1958, Monaco Grand Prix 

First NASCAR driver – Sara Christian – June 19, 1949 (NASCAR’s first race) 

First Daytona 500 Entrant – Janet Guthrie – 1977 Daytona 500 

First Indianapolis 500 Entrant – Janet Guthrie – 1977 Indy 500 

First Top Fuel Driver – Shirley “Cha Cha” Muldowney – 1973 


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