International Women’s Day is the perfect time to showcase how women have changed the automotive industry. When it comes to vehicles, people are inclined to think of Jamsetji Tata, Henry Ford and other famous men who are behind the most recognisable car brands on the market today. But what many people don’t know is that women are the ones behind many of the revolutionary innovations that forever altered the way we drive and view cars. Over the decades, women have taken huge strides into an industry that is undoubtedly male dominated.
1) Bertha Benz
The business partner and wife of automobile inventor Karl Benz, on 5 August 1888, Bertha Benz was the first person to embark on a motorised journey over a long distance in the history of the automobile. She drove from Mannheim to Pforzheim with her two sons in the Patent Motor Car built by her husband Carl Benz. But she didn’t stop there! Along the trip, Bertha realised the need for brake pads to help the brakes operate to their full potential, becoming the woman behind their invention!
2) Shila Dawre
Shutting down all stereotypes, Shila Dawre became India’s first woman auto driver. With just Rs.12 in hand, she left her hometown and went to Pune to start her incredible journey as a driver. Dawre is recorded in the Limca Book of World Records as the first woman auto-rickshaw driver in the country.
3) Suzanne RD Tata
The wife of Indian businessman Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata, Suzanne is known for being the first woman in India to drive a car, in 1905.
Vasanthakumari started driving at the age of 14 when she didn’t even have a license while fighting patriarchy and poverty. She went on to become the first female driver with the Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation in 1993 with a heavy vehicle license.
5) Mary Barra
Starting her career with General Motors in 1980, Mary Barra started off as a General Motors Institute co-op student. In 2014, within her thirty-nine year career, Barra rose to the role of CEO. She became the first-ever female CEO of a major automaker.
Not only have women fought the patriarchy in the automotive industry, they have also made huge contributions and innovations that made vehicles better and safer.
The next time you get a chill and turn on the heater in your car, you have Margaret Wilcox to thank. She was one of the few female mechanical engineers in the late 1800s and invented a way to direct the warm air from over the engines back into the car.
2. Non-reflective windows
What we know today as non-reflective windows to reduce glare, is thanks to the discovery of Katharine Blodgett. A physicist and chemist at General Electric, Blodgett discovered a way to create an “invisible” glass surface. Her technology was used for camera lenses, movie projectors, submarine periscopes, eyeglasses, computer screens and, of course, windshields.
3. Windshield Wipers
After witnessing trolley drivers stopping to get out and wipe snow or rain from their windows, Mary Anderson designed a manual lever that operated a wiper from inside the car.
4. GPS And Wi-Fi
Invented in the 1940s for use as a secret wartime communication system that could keep the enemy from interfering with a ship’s torpedoes, American-Austrian film actress Hedy Lamarr was responsible for inventing the technology that made GPS and Wi-Fi possible eventually giving us internet-enabled cars.