Ten revolutionary women in automotive industry
For a long time, many people perceived women as being less capable than men. However, women continue to contend with a fair share of gender-based discrimination, especially in male-dominated sectors. The automotive industry is an example of these areas that underrepresent women, as it is highly fuelled by misconceptions of women and driving. Adalla Allan compiles a list of top ladies that have contributed to the motorcar industry’s success
1. Bertha Benz
Behind every successful man there’s a woman, so they say. Bertha Benz, the wife to Carl Benz (the founder of the Mercedes Benz) substantiated this saying by being the first person to drive her husband’s brainchild car in 1888, completing the first long-distance journey with a gasoline-powered engine in automotive history.
Bertha took the Benz Patent Motorcar without the consent of her husband and covered a distance of 180 kilometres with it.
Through this action, she proved to the world that the automobile industry had a big future ahead, with the drive leading to various improvements such as the brake pads and gearshifts.
2. Margaret Wilcox
Driving in an automobile without a heater would be an arduous experience.
Solving this problem became possible in 1893 when the American born Margaret Wilcox, a mechanical engineer invented the first car heater to enable the car produce the warmth that we enjoy today.
This invention made driving manageable in foggy and frigid weather by keeping windows mist-free and also maintained car interior at chosen temperatures according to our need, making the driving experience more comfortable and safer.
3. Mary Anderson
Driving a car on rainy weather without the wipers in working condition is never a simple task. The visibility becomes pathetic.
Mary Anderson solved this by coming up with a genius idea in 1902 when she observed a trolley driver having a tough time seeing through the windshield on a sleet-filled day.
Amazingly, Mary was no mechanical or automotive expert, but a real estate developer and rancher.
Many solutions were attempted before, but Mary produced the first working model using a lever that activated a spring-loaded arm to move back and forth across the windshield via a counterweight system.
Her design was the most effective and for that, she was granted a patent.
4. Dorothy Levitt
Dorothy was the first British woman racing driver, holder of the world’s first water and land speed record holder, and an author.
She was a pioneer of female independence and female motoring and taught Queen Alexandra and the Royal Princesses how to drive.
In 1911, she recommended in her book, The Woman and the Car, that women should “carry a little hand-mirror in a convenient place when driving” so they may “hold the mirror aloft from time to time in order to see behind while driving in traffic”, thus inventing the rear-view mirror before it was introduced by manufacturers in 1914.
5. Florence Lawrence
The modern-day turn and stop signals have come a long way. Their predecessors are the auto-signal arms masterminded by a Hollywood starlet and first movie star Florence Lawrence.
Her passion for rides made her quote, “A car to me is something almost human”.
In 1914, she developed a mechanical signalling arm that with the press of a button, raised or lowered a flag on the car’s rear bumper in order to tell other drivers which way a car was going to turn.
After that, Lawrence devised a rudimentary brake signal that worked on the same principle: when a driver pressed the brakes, a “stop” sign flipped up from the back bumper.
6. Charlotte Bridgwood
No man had thought of improving the windshields from manual invented by Mary Anderson in 1902 until Charlotte Bridgwood took the challenge and devised the first electrically operated automatic wipers in 1917.
Charlotte named its invention the ‘Storm Windshield Cleaner’. She used rollers instead of blades.
A few years later it became widely adopted and has been fitted in cars, including in cars such as Cadillac.
7. June McCarrol
June McCarrol came up with the road separation line that makes us stick to our lanes while driving.
Imagine a road where there are no road markings; roads would be chaotic. McCarroll got the idea after a particular terrible accident in 1917.
She was driving her Ford Model T when a truck came her way so she had to skid off the road in order to evade the oncoming truck.
Immediately after that incident, June thought of the idea, but Riverside Country Board of Supervisors didn’t share her enthusiasm, so she decided to take matters into her own hands and personally painted the white stripe on today’s Indio Boulevard, in California, USA.
The separation of roads has now become a mandatory rule in the world traffic rules.
8. Helen Rother
Whenever General Motors (GM) is mentioned, the car designs that come to mind are the enormous and wide American heavy off-road cars such as the Hummer, Cadillac, GMC and Chevrolet.
In 1948, Helen Rother was the only woman in the team that participated in coming up with the trademark design of GM cars.
She quickly became Detroit’s first female car designer working in General Motors’ interior designing staff.
Helen opened the doors for many other women who followed in her footsteps to change the automotive history.
9. Mary Barra
We thought we had seen it all in women achievements as far as the automotive industry is concerned until January of 2014 when Mary Barra stepped up to be the first woman in history to become the chief executive officer of a major automaker, the General Motors.
Having started working for GM as an 18-year-old in 1980, Mary brought many years of experience into the office.
She is still the CEO of the company that had gone bankrupt in 2010 and later revived through grants by the US government.
Today, she faces a new challenge as GM comes under fire for recalls related to a faulty ignition switch, but her achievements are just irrefutable.
10. Gladys Mae West
Though Gladys West executions were done in the 70s, the world came to know her in 2018 during the US Airforce Hall of Fame.
West programmed an IBM computer to deliver increasingly precise calculations to model the shape of the Earth — an ellipsoid with irregularities, known as the geoid.
Generating an extremely accurate model required her to employ complex algorithms to account for variations in gravitational, tidal, and other forces that distort earth’s shape.
West’s data ultimately became the basis for the Global Positioning System (GPS), which has since become a useful tool in motor navigation.