AutoPoint is proud to support the Leading Women Network semi-annual event, where women from every corner of the automotive world convene to discuss the industry and meet other like-minded professionals. This event is put on by Automotive News twice a year and its one of the largest gatherings of automotive experts and specialists to educate, mentor and empower women in the field.
In advance of this spring’s conference in Dallas, TX, we thought we’d hitch a ride down through the halls of history and spotlight some prominent women who influenced the automotive industry with their boldness and resolve to make cars safer and more accessible.
Bertha Benz, wife and business partner of engineer Karl Benz of Mercedes-Benz fame, was a crucial participant in the 19th century’s vehicle revolution. Bertha herself pioneered the longest journey ever taken via horseless carriage at the time, and even developed the earliest version of brake pads. You could even make the case that Bertha was Mercedes’ first PR agent—she took on the cross-country trek to prove to the outside world, and her doubting husband, that the “motorwagen” would be a commercial success.
Watch the story of Bertha’s inspiring cross-country journey here.
Mary Anderson’s story is a good old-fashioned tale of problem-solving. On a trip to New York in the winter of 1903, Alabama native Mary Anderson noticed that trolley drivers could not clearly see the road ahead through all the snow and sleet without opening the trolley window themselves and cleaning off the windshield, getting soaked in the process. When Anderson returned to Alabama, she set to work on a design for a hand-operated windshield cleaning device. She obtained the patient for the device and tried to sell the rights, but no one took her up on her idea. Only later, when the patent expired, did the industry take note and make Anderson’s invention a standard for all vehicles.
While Hedy Lamarr rose to international fame primarily for being a Hollywood actress in the ‘40s and ‘50s, her achievements in technology invention earned her a place in our hearts. Lamarr had no formal training but frequently tinkered with tech and even had a cadre of Howard Hughes’ scientists at her disposal. In addition to developing an improved traffic stoplight, Lamarr is credited with the invention of a frequency-hopping signal for use in wartime, a precursor to Wi-Fi and the modern GPS.
Apparently, film artists in the early 20th century had a lot of time on their hands! Florence Lawrence was a silent film star who is credited for nearly 250 on-screen roles and patenting the first turn and brake signals. According to those close to her, Lawrence loved driving and bought her own car, which was the definition of a luxury purchase at the time. Her rudimentary signal devices, flags that would jut out from the side and rear of her vehicle when turning or braking, would serve as the groundwork for today’s electric signals. It’s no small coincidence that Lawrence took an interest in invention, as her mother, Charlotte Bridgwood, is credited with inventing the first electrical windshield wipers.
Yes, Mary Barra is still very much active in the auto industry. We had to include her in this list of iconic figures in automotive history because of her notable career path and the influence she’s cultivated in the auto world. Barra was appointed CEO of General Motors in 2014 and became the first female CEO of a leading global automaker. She started her career checking fender panels to pay her way through college, and after graduating from Kettering, received a master’s in business administration from Stanford. Barra has worked for GM for nearly 30 years in many different roles, from managing an assembly plant to Vice President of Global Product Development.
Women have certainly made their mark on the automotive industry, and continue to influence vehicle design, road safety, and the concept of modern transportation. Be on the lookout for more updates on the Leading Women Network event in May, and be sure to check out our International Women’s Day post from March, featuring some of our organization’s leading women.