Women's History Month
We don’t often know who a trailblazer is until the retrospective look that history gives us. We can all be trailblazers in traffic safety as we age by knowing the signs that might let us know it is time to change our driving habits, planning for our transportation future, and taking the appropriate action when necessary. For inspiration, here are some women who saw a problem, worked to solve it and have contributed to traffic safety and the automobile industry. Women’s History Month provides a unique time to learn about how women contributed to auto-history. All information and images from bmw.com.
- Mary Anderson
When Mary Anderson noticed that drivers had to get out and wipe off their windshields in inclement weather (such as rain or snow) on the streets of New York City, it became clear to her that there was a need for automatic wiper blades. In 1903, she applied and was granted a patent for the automatic windshield wiper. Anderson tried to sell her windshield wipers to a Canadian manufacturing company, but was told the device would have no practical use. Mechanical windshield wipers were standard on cars in 1913, but Anderson never profited from her idea.
- Danica Patrick
Danica Patrick was one of the most successful women in NASCAR and IndyCar race motorsports. Patrick was a racer in both series between 2005 and 2018. She won her first and only IndyCar race in 2008. Patrick secured seven podium finishes and three pole positions in IndyCar and began racing in NASCAR in 2011. Between 2011-2018, she competed in 191 NASCAR races. In 2013, she became the first woman to compete at the Daytona 500 race.
- Suzanne Vanderbilt
General Motors launched a “Damsels of Design” program (a group of women that GM used to reach women clients) which was short lived. Most of the “damsels” only stayed with GM from the mid-1950s to the early 1960s. Suzanne Vanderbilt was the exception. Vanderbilt worked tirelessly and was named Chief Designer of Chevrolet’s Interior Studios in 1972.
- Margaret Wilcox
Margaret Wilcox wanted cars to be comfortable, so she created the first car heating system in 1893. She was one of the first female mechanical engineers. Her system consisted of a combustion chamber under the car and a series of pipes beneath the passenger compartment through which heated water was fed. This system made driving in foggy and cool weather easier by keeping the windows fog-free and making the car a comfortable area.
- Wilhelmine Erhardt
In Spring of 1899, Wilhelmine Erhardt shattered the glass ceiling of thinking of motor vehicles as a male domain. Erhardt was the wife of the Eisenhach vehicle factory manager in Germany and was very enthusiastic for all things automotive. When her husband, Gustav Erhardt, signed up for a long-distance cross-border trip (from Innsbruck, Austria to Munich, Germany), Wilhelmine accompanied him. In 1901, Wilhelmine participated in the Eisenach – Meiningen long-distance automotive trip through the Hainich mountain range when she just missed a spot on the podium.
- Stephanie Kwolek
In 1968, Stephanie Kwolek filed a patent that created a “super fiber” that we now know as Kevlar. Kelvar is used in several car related accessories, such as better filters, belts, seals, and tires. “Inventions by female engineers like Stephanie Kwolek have helped to lay the foundations for the development of the automotive industry,” according to BMW.com.
- Clärenore Stinnes
At the age of 26, Clärenore Stinnes took on the challenge to circumnavigate the world in a car. Her journey took place in 1927 in a 34.5-hp Adler Standard 6 and took 25 months. There were often no roads, maps, or service stations. Stinnes traveled 29,054 miles through 23 countries with a cinematographer named Carl-Axel Söderström.
- Bertha Benz
Carl Benz created the first “horseless carriage” (automobile) in 1886, and in 1888, Bertha Benz completed the first successful cross-country trip in a car. Even though there weren’t many paved roads, Benz and her sons drove the 66 miles from Mannheim to Pforzheim. This was a major feat and helped promote the automobile.
- Charlie Martin
Charlie Martin, the first transgender racing driver to compete at the 24-hour race around Germany’s legendary Nurburgring track, made history when she finished fourth in her class during the race. Martin aims to promote diversity in the sport of racing.
- Lella Lombardi
Lella Lombardi became interested in racing when she sustained a handball injury and needed to be transported to a hospital in an ambulance. Lombardi became very interested in the speed on the trip, and decided to motor race. Lombardi is the only woman to date to have scored championship points in Formula 1.
- Jutta Kleinschmidt
Jutta Kleinschmidt took part of the Paris-Dakar rally on a motorbike. In 2001, she was the first woman (and German) to win the world’s toughest desert rally in the Sahara desert. Kleinschmidt raced for almost 20 years. Kleinshmidt now works as a motivational trainer.
It is clear that women have always had an important role on the road. Next, learn about your role in road safety! Learn more with RoadSafeSeniors here.