Celebrating the women pioneers in the world of mobility

The automotive industry, often perceived as male-dominated, has been significantly shaped by remarkable women whose contributions have revolutionized the way we move and perceive transportation. This post celebrates these women, from Bertha Benz's historic road trip to Suzanne Vanderbilt's design work, and highlights others who have left a clear mark on the industry.

presse berthabenz
Bertha Benz: The first long-distance driver

Bertha Benz, wife of Karl Benz, embarked on the first long-distance journey in the Benz Patent-Motorwagen, in 1888. This bold adventure not only proved the practicality of her husband's invention but also showcased her mechanical ingenuity and problem-solving skills. During this historic trip, Bertha faced various challenges, including issues with the vehicle's braking system. To address the braking problems, Bertha Benz demonstrated resourcefulness and innovation by stopping at a local cobbler's shop. There, she asked the cobbler to attach leather shoe soles to the vehicle's brake blocks, creating an improvised brake lining. This makeshift solution proved effective in enhancing the braking performance of the motorwagen, allowing Bertha to complete her journey. Bertha's journey was more than a mere test drive and demonstrated the potential of the car as a reliable mode of transportation.

Simone Louise des Forest: Get in the car, Simone

Simone Louise des Forest, affectionately known as "En voiture Simone" left an indelible mark on the automotive landscape. Born in France, she defied the societal norms of her time, venturing into a male-dominated industry. She earned her driver's license in 1929, establishing herself as one of the earliest women to do so. Later on, she actively participated in several car races between 1930 and 1957. Des Forest became a symbol of female empowerment in the automotive world. Her nickname, "En voiture Simone" translates to "Get in the car, Simone" playfully urging women to take control of the wheel. She challenged stereotypes with a distinctive approach, fostering a sense of liberation for women in the evolving world of automobiles.

Suzanne Vanderbilt: The design trailblazer

Suzanne E. Vanderbilt served as an industrial designer at General Motors, joining the groundbreaking "Damsels of Design," a group of women automobile designers, in the mid-1950s. In the beginning, the Damsels only worked on styling the interiors of cars. However, their role soon expanded to conduct comprehensive research, design, and redevelopment efforts for automobiles, surpassing mere aesthetics. These women were granted the opportunity to remodel interiors for ten distinct General Motors vehicles, presenting their innovative designs in a feminine showcase in 1958. During Vanderbilt's time, she achieved the distinction of being the first female assistant designer, contributing to notable accomplishments such as securing two patents in the field of automotive safety and ergonomics.

Camille du Gast au Paris-Madrid 1903 sur de Dietrich
Camille Du Gast: The racing tomboy

Camille Du Gast was a real trailblazer, the first woman ever to get her driver's license in 1897. But she didn't stop there. She went on to make history by participating in the grueling Paris-Berlin motor race, showcasing her courage and undeniable skill behind the wheel. She wasn't one to shy away from pushing the gas pedal down, which made her the first woman to receive a speeding ticket in the Bois de Boulogne for driving at 15 kilometres per hour where the speed limit was set at 12 kilometres per hour. In an era when societal norms rigidly constrained women, Du Gast fearlessly challenged these constraints, proving that the racetrack wasn't just a boys' club. Du Gast wasn't just about breaking records on the racetrack; she also made history in politics. She became the first woman to hold a position in the French government's automotive department, further establishing her legacy as a true pioneer in multiple arenas.

These remarkable women's stories serve as powerful reminders of their enduring impact on an overly male-dominated industry, emphasizing the significance of perseverance and innovation. In an era when women's inclusion in society, including their right to vote, was limited, these pioneers broke barriers and shaped the automotive landscape. Their legacy shines brightly, guiding the way forward and prompting us to reflect on the diversity they injected into the industry. The question remains: What might today's cars be without the contributions of these women? As you take the wheel, consider the pioneers who paved the way for innovation, diversity, and progress in the automotive world.

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Nicky Verdoodt

Nicky Delphin

Sr. Digital Content Strategist

"Passionate about cats. And cars!"

While the cat’s away, Nicky writes about mobility, one post at a time.