Five women who changed the way we drive!

March 28th, 2021 by

March is Women’s History Month, so Landers Chevrolet Cadillac of Joplin wanted to take a moment to celebrate women and all the ways they have shaped the automotive industry, including in the Landers Auto Group! Since the earliest days of motoring, female inventors and innovators have been pushing the envelope, often under challenging circumstances, to help make driving safer, better and more enjoyable. Seen below, check out brief bios for women innovators who invented automotive ideas that are still changing the way we drive today!

Bertha Benz 
The Invention: The Road Trip and Brake Pads
The wife of Karl Benz, who invented the first self-propelled, gasoline-powered automobile, Bertha Benz was an innovator in her own right. After Karl invented his gasoline-powered car in 1886, Bertha was dismayed that more people didn’t seen the promise in the invention and its potential to change the world. After two years of watching her husband struggle to find financial backers for his car while naysayers called it fragile and unroadworthy Bertha had had enough. To prove the reliability and practicality of Karl’s pioneering automobile, Bertha and her two teenage sons kinda sorta stole the car one day in 1888 and took it on the first long-distance “road trip” in vehicle history, travelling a then-incredible 66 miles, with Bertha and her sons acting as mechanics during the trip. Another invention that came from that drive: when the pioneering car’s wooden brakes began to overheat and fail, Bertha had the idea to stop at the shop of a shoemaker and get him to cover the brakes in pieces of tough cowhide leather. Thus, Bertha created another invention we still use today: heat-resistant brake linings that can be worn away over time and then replaced.

Mary Anderson and Charlotte Bridgwood
The Invention: Windshield wipers

Driving in rain, sleet or snow? Where would we all be without the modern windshield wiper clearing away all that Mother Nature throws our way? While automotive windshield wipers seem like a no-brainer, the first person to come up with the idea was a New Yorker named Mary Anderson and it wasn’t for cars! In 1903, Mary received a patent for a hand-operated windshield-wiping device that she sketched up after she saw NYC streetcar conductors forced to get out and remove sleet and snow from their windshields by hand. Building on that success, another inventor, Charlotte Bridgwood, created the first electric automobile windshield wiper in 1917. Unlike modern wipers, which use a thin rubber squeegee to clean the windshield, Bridgwood’s design used soft rollers. Though later designs took precedence over their inventions, Anderson and Bridgewood are still seen as the inventors of modern wipers. 

Florence Lawrence
The Invention: Automotive Turn Signals and “Stop” signal

Though mostly forgotten today, Florence Lawrence — an actor in early silent films who was so influential at the time that she became known as “The First Movie Star” — was so much more than just a pretty face. After using her newfound Hollywood money to buy early automobiles in the 1910s, Lawrence was so appalled by their lack of anything approaching safety equipment that she set out to do something about it, inventing both the turn signal and a primitive, non-electrical form of “brake light.”  To help drivers signal their intent to turn to other drivers, Lawrence’s “auto-signalling arms” were small flags that popped out of each side of the vehicle at the push of a button. Lawrence also invented a small STOP sign that popped up on the rear bumper whenever she applied the brakes. Lawrence never patented her designs, allowing them to be the basis for further development of these life-saving automotive signals. 

Margaret Wilcox
The Invention: The Vehicle Heater

The next time you head out to go to work on a snowy winter morning and find yourself being thankful for the automotive heater pumping warm air into your car as if by magic, defrosting both you, your fingers and your will to carry on, be sure to thank Margaret Wilcox. Born in often-frigid Chicago, Wilcox was alarmed at the rise of deaths and injuries caused by people trying to heat early, enclosed automobiles in the winter with devices ranging from kerosene heaters to buckets filled with burning coals. To help save lives, in 1893, she invented a device that utilized the heat produced by the vehicle’s engine, blowing hot air from the engine compartment into the passenger cabin. Though Wilcox’s invention was a definite improvement over “freeze or potentially burn yourself severely,” it didn’t catch on because regulating the idea had no way to regulate temperature. Later innovations, however, turned up the heat on Wilcox’s idea that still keeps our tootsies toasty while driving today. 

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