What was the first road trip?

You can actually visit the Bertha Benz Memorial Route in Germany to retrace the historic road trip.
You can actually visit the Bertha Benz Memorial Route in Germany to retrace the historic road trip.

The invention of the automobile not only revolutionized transportation; on a personal level, it empowered individuals and families with independence and mobility. Many people's fondest childhood memories are of family road trips, with their promise of new sights and experiences. Indeed, the excitement of a road trip often has as much to do with the journey as the destination.

We've looked back through history to find out how long this tradition has been around, and it might surprise some to learn that the first road trip was actually undertaken by a woman. It's notable because society has always perceived the automobile as a particularly masculine machine. After all, it was invented by men, and the world of auto mechanics and car enthusiasts has always been male-dominated. Even the old stereotype says that women make poor drivers. But it's not a stretch to say that the automobile might not have caught on so quickly had it not been for the encouragement and know-how of one adventurous woman and her voyage on the first-ever road trip.

Bertha Benz was the wife of German engineer Karl Benz, the man usually credited as the inventor of the automobile (along with Gottlieb Daimler, who was working on his own invention independently of Benz). Benz built a gasoline engine in 1878, and after a few years, he was able to combine this engine with a specially-designed, three-wheeled carriage. This is what many consider the first automobile. It had two large wheels in back and a smaller single wheel in front for steering. Instead of a steering wheel, the Benz Patent-Motorwagen used a lever to steer, as well as levers to control the brakes and gearshift. But it was a very primitive machine, with only a 3/4-horsepower, one-cylinder, four-stroke internal combustion engine that maxed out at just 10 miles per hour (16.1 kilometers per hour). It was fairly difficult to control, and Karl Benz himself crashed it into a wall during one early test. When he felt confident enough to ride it around the streets, it only worked for a short time before the drive chain snapped.

Understandably, Karl Benz was skeptical about the marketability of his three-wheeled "motorwagen" until he could work out all of the kinks. That's when his wife Bertha took the wheel.