Vivek Devaraj, an automotive engineer and educator, shares the story of the first-ever car.

Narrator: Vivek Devaraj


Hello everyone. Welcome to yet another edition of Hello Educator. Today’s episode is from Mango Science Radio, and the story is about the world’s first car. I know you’re wondering, what is up with this new music?! You know, I just wanted to add a classical touch to today’s historical story. The story’s from Vivek Devaraj, he’s an automotive engineer and an educator. Hope you like the story. 

00:42  Hello everyone, I’m Vivek Devaraj. I’m an automobile engineer. Cars are my passion and I enjoy teaching science in a practical way. Today, I am going to share an iconic moment in the history of modern cars. This is a story of how the very first car saw the daylight. It is not just about the engineering skill of a man who designed it, but also the courageous act of a young woman. 

01:09  Can you guess the couple I’m talking about? You will find out when you hear the story. It was the late 1880s, almost 135 years ago, engineers and inventors were scratching their brains to find an alternative to power the vehicles. In those times, carriages of people and luggage were powered mostly by horses and bullocks. Inventions like jet turbines and steam engines were being introduced and the internal combustion engine, like the petrol and diesel engines powering most of our vehicles were still too big to be fitted in a vehicle. However, a group of engineers believed that an internal combustion engine is the way forward to power personal vehicles. 

01:54  It’s time to introduce a special person. Let me introduce Mr.Karl Benz a German engineer with a flair for inventing new machines, and a strong determination to make the first self – powered vehicle. But, how was his approach different to the other engineers and scientists working in the same field? In fact, Mr.Benz was not the first person to make a working engine, Many people have built a gas-powered engine before him. However, he got the first-ever patent certificate for the first automobile ever made in this world. That is mainly because of his ability to connect the dots and create a new solution. He then just fit a small engine in a horse carriage but went on to design a completely new body for it. Yes! He designed the body or, in technical terms, the chassis, from scratch, to suit his engine design. That means he had to engineer not just the new engine but also important systems like the suspension, steering, brakes, seating, etc.

03:06  Oh wait! Does it sound similar to an approach followed by a very famous industrialist in our times? Any guess? If you had said Elon Musk, then consider this as a remote high five from me. Yes, there is a strong similarity between the philosophy followed in these two cases. Mr.Musk believes that electric cars need to be designed from scratch to suit the electric drive system, while other automakers were simply trying to fit an electric drive system into their existing designs. Well, we all know who is winning here.

03:42  Now, let’s get back to the 19th-century story and to Mr.Benz’s workshop. This story is not just about engineering but there is also a part played by courage. 

03:54  Let me introduce Mrs.Bertha Benz, the wife and a business partner of Karl Benz, who played a crucial role in the first automobile’s development. She was not an engineer by study nor did she learn science, but she was a courageous young woman with an entrepreneurial spirit. When Mr.Benz had finished working on his third prototype of his motor wagon, he was very reluctant to show his prototype to the public, possibly because his second prototype had met with a minor accident when he was testing it. He kept his new creation locked in his workshop thinking of ways to perfect it before showing it to the public. But the time was running out as there were also other inventors who were trying to use the engine in the vehicle.

04:44  The courageous woman that Bertha Benz was couldn’t just wait for the opportunity to knock her doors. She hit the streets. One fine morning, she set off on her own to visit her mother, who lives in the next town. Well, someone going to visit their hometown isn’t very special, but then Bertha Benz made it special by driving the first-ever car that was made. She used her husband’s invention of course! Karl Benz wouldn’t have allowed it, but then she never told him beforehand. She left a note and took her two sons, and set off to her mother’s town that was a 106 away. She is the first human and a woman to set off on such a long drive in a car. Well, to do something remarkable it is not only courage but also smartness isn’t it? And she had a lot of it. Having witnessed her husband work on his prototypes, she confidently managed to fix multiple breakdowns that happened in the route. Most of the solutions were what we famously called Jugaad, but they worked!

05:51  People observing her driving a horseless carriage were terrified but watched curiously as the car marched through. Many even mocked her when the car broke down but she fought back with resilience to fix the car using things she had with her that were as trivial as a hairpin she used to unclog a blocked fuel pipe. When the original wooden brakes designed by her husband began to fail, she came up with a very clever idea. She went to a cobbler and then added a leather layer to the wooden shoes so that the shoes started working better. This made the brakes very effective and also became the first-ever brake shoe. She planned the route to go through various chemical shops to get the required fuel for her vehicle. By the evening of the same day, almost after 12 hours after starting from Mr.Benz’s workshop, she had made history when she reached her mother’s home.

06:50  Bertha Benz had set the record as the first human to drive a car this far. Mr.Karl Benz was ultimately relieved that his family and invention were safe and worked quite well. The technical insights gained during this adventurous journey helped perfect the prototype, thus beginning a great social transformation that actually shrunk the world. So the next time you hop onto a vehicle, you know whose bravery to thank. Thank you, Mrs.Bertha Benz! Hope you liked the story, and until next time, bye. 

That was quite an inspiring story, isn’t it? Huge respect to team Benz for making what mobility is today. Big shout out to Vivek Devaraj for sending in today’s story. We hope Mango Science Radio series is adding some value to your daily life. The classic music used in this episode is by Willy Burking. If you liked this episode please share it with your loved ones. We hope it inspires them during these quarantine times. Until next episode, this is Aasif signing off. Stay home, Stay safe!

Music by Karthikeyan KC