This photo is shared all over the internet with the claim that it shows Bertha Benz (née Ringer, 3 May 1849 – 5 May 1944) and her sons Richard and Eugen during the first ever cross-country auto mobile journey in 1888.
They DID make that trip and it made history, I advice everyone to look it up because it was quite the achievement.
Bertha, the wife of Karl Benz, inventor of the first (practical) motorcar is a car pioneer who is responsible for a lot of firsts.
When her husband was insecure about the value of his invention she took the car without asking (first case of Grand theft auto, sort of 😉 ), took it for the first ever proper car journey, turned a chemist into the first ever petrol station, etc, etc.
So the story is very interesting and true.
But the photo is not.
When I saw the photo first I knew there was something not right about it but it took me a some time to figure out what.
First I had to track down a larger version, but then it became obvious.
Besides the dodgy looking costumes, you can very clearly see that the boy on the left is wearing modern shoes with thick rubber soles.
When I concluded that the photo was modern, it till took some time for me to trace its background story.
Which was not as easy as one would assume, stock photography websites are often a great way to track the origin of a photo but in this case that was a bit tricky because even they seemed to think this was a real old photo.
No, Alamy, this is not a photo of the real Bertha Benz, no it was not taken in 1886, no that was not even when this trip took place.
The photo can be found on official Mercedes websites but has also been published in books and newspapers as genuine or at least without adding that it is indeed a modern picture, but I was sure it wasn’t the original so I had to keep looking and eventually I managed to find the originals and even a few others made on that day, these are all, obviously modern photos;
One website described the photo as such;
I got in touch with the Mercedes-Benz Classic Archive and they described the photo as following;
Together with her sons (Eugen and Richard) Bertha Benz dared to do a first long-distance trip with the patent motor car from Mannheim to Pforzheim in 1888. This scene from a movie shows the three “pioneers” when pushing the vehicle.
On the Dailmer.com website the photo has the following description;
Yet another Mercedes website describes one of the other photos as such;
So not only do the photos not depict the real Bertha or that real first trip, they don’t even depict the right car.
This is the first version of the 1886 patent motor car, not the production version from 1888.
The photos are also not taken in the actual historical locations.
The trip went from Mannheim via Heidelberg to Pforzheim (Black Forest) and back, these photos were all taken in the gorgeous town of Ladenburg, near the ‘Automuseum Dr. Carl Benz’.
I’m still not sure what the story is behind the photos but am glad I finally found the exact locations after asking people on Twitter if they knew where they were taken.
Special thanks to Monika Gause who found the ‘Apotheke’, which is actually the former orphanage on the Kirchenstraße 7.
Finally here’s a photo of the real Bertha Benz, it dates back to the 1870s:
So although I am yet to find out more about the exact circumstances regarding this re-enactment or movie shoot, it is now at least clear that the photo absolutely does not show the real Bertha Benz and was not taken in 1888.
If/when I find out more about the origin of the pictures I’ll update this page.
Picture(s) found online, used for (re-)educational purposes only.
I do not own the copyrights to these images, I only share them here for educational purposes to try and make sure the real story behind it becomes known and people will stop spreading false information.
If the copyright owner objects to the sharing here, kindly contact me and I shall alter the article.
If you’re interested in using any of the images here get in touch with the copyright owners mentioned in the article.
Feel free to contact me with questions.