Celebrating Women in Automotive History
Women’s History Month has officially kicked off and Protect My Car wants to celebrate the many accomplishments that women have given to the automobile world. When it comes to the auto industry, people generally think of the names Henry Ford, Horace Dodge, and Elon Musk; however, throughout history, women have created, provided and accomplished just as many amazing and innovative feats to the automobile industry. Here are some of the amazing women who shaped the auto world into what we know today.
1: Florence Lawrence – Turn Signal and Brake Lights
It may be hard to imagine a time when brake lights and turn signals were nonexistent. They are arguably two of the most important lights on any automobile. Silent film star, Florence Lawrence, invented these two contraptions shortly after buying her first car in 1913. Florence created the “Auto Signaling Arm”; a device which, upon activation, would raise or lower an arm attached to a sign that indicated the direction of an upcoming turn. This device would also show a “stop” sign when braking. Unfortunately, Florence did not obtain any patents for any of her ideas and therefore received no credit or compensation when the auto industry began implementing her inventions as a standard feature in automobiles. In 1915, Lawrence quit her successful acting career and withdrew from the public eye altogether. It was later discovered that Lawrence had developed a bone-marrow disease and she later passed away in 1938.
2: Mary Anderson – Windshield Wipers
Mary Anderson was taking a trip to New York when she noticed the drivers having to stop and clear the snow and rain from their windows. This was when inspiration struck her. Mary Anderson invented the windshield wipers by using a swinging arm with a rubber blade that could be operated manually from inside the car. The device has become mechanized, but the concept remains relatively unchanged. Windshield wipers became standard in all automobiles in 1916.
3: Bertha Benz – Brake Pads and First Road Trip
The name Benz might sound a little familiar. That’s because Bertha Benz was the wife of famed German engineer Karl Benz. Karl was the inventor of the Motorwagen, the world’s first production automobile in 1888. Bertha Benz was the first person to complete the world’s first long-distance road trip. Bertha loaded up her Motorwagen with her two sons and traveled sixty-six miles to visit her mother. This trip helped garner much attention to the Motorwagen, and its traveling capabilities, and helped boost the sales of the struggling vehicle. During her famous road trip, Bertha noticed the brakes were not responding as well as she would like. After speaking with a blacksmith, she created “brake linings” which eventually evolved into what we know today as brake pads. Today, you can retrace the trip Bertha took with her sons. In 2008, Germany unveiled the Bertha Benz Memorial Route – marking the historic journey. The route takes drivers from Mannheim to Pforzheim and back.
4: Helen Rother – Automobile Design
Helen Rother is the first female automotive designer. As a young woman in France, Rother designed jewelry. This was until the Second World War led her and her young daughter to live in a North African refugee camp. In 1941, she arrived in New York where she became an illustrator for Marvel Comics. Helen traveled to Detroit after seeing a job listing for a designer at General Motors. She got the job and worked for GM for four years, where she was extremely successful. However, her success and accomplishments were downplayed, and, because of this, she left GM and began to work for Nash Motors (now known as Chrysler). From 1948 to 1956, her designs established Nash interiors as modern and stylish. Nash interiors were dubbed the best in American automotive luxury. Rother’s designs would earn her an invitation to speak at the 1951 Society of Automotive Engineers Conference. She was the first woman to ever do so.
5: Hedy Lamarr – GPS
Hollywood actress Hedy LaMarr is best known for her Oscar-nominated films Algiers and Samson and Delilah. A lesser known fact about the starlet is that she co-patented a device for frequency-hopping technology in 1941. The technology would set the foundation for today’s mobile phones, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and of course GPS. The patent, filed with co-inventor George Antheil, was designed for radio communications to hop from one frequency to another. This enabled Allied torpedoes to be undetectable by the Nazis. Unfortunately, LaMarr never received any money for her invention.
These women, and many more have shaped and influenced the automobiles industry in countless ways. Many of these achievements were just recently uncovered. It’s crazy to think of how many of these inventions are now considered standard in every automobile.