International Women’s Day: Legends of The Car Industry
This week the Tangelo Team are celebrating International Women’s Day; a global day to recognise the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. And whilst in previous years we’ve featured the ladies who work at Tangelo, this year we thought we’d look at the car industry itself, and celebrate some of the influential women who made their automotive impact.
From the world’s first female racing drivers to iconic names, physicians, designers, and more, there’s a good chance you don’t appreciate just how much of an impact women have had on the car industry in the last century, but we’re here to change that!
Known as the first woman to design a car with women in mind, Dorothée Pullinger was not only one of the world’s first female automobile engineers, but a famous advocate for women’s rights in the workplace, and a keen racing driver herself.
Born in France in 1894 and growing up in the UK, Pullinger trained as an automobile engineer at her father’s car factory before working as a female supervisor at Vickers, a large munitions factory specialising in high explosive shells during the First World War.
It was after the war that Pullinger made her stamp in automobile history when she designed the Galloway 10/20, a lighter and smaller vehicle designed purely for the ease of women drivers. Her design saw gears placed in the middle of the car where they still sit today, seats were raised to improve vision, additional storage space was added, the dashboard was lowered, and the steering wheel made smaller.
Bertha Benz was a German automotive pioneer and the wife of automobile inventor Karl Benz (of Mercedes-Benz), and it was in August of 1888 that she made her stamp on automobile history when she embarked on a historic road trip in her husband's newly invented automobile, the Benz Patent-Motorwagen.
Not only was this the first long-distance automobile road trip in history, but it helped to popularise the automobile and demonstrate its potential as a practical means of transportation.
Bertha also played a huge role in the development and marketing of the automobile, as she recognised the potential of her husband's invention and took the initiative to promote it. In fact, it was Bertha Benz who convinced Karl Benz to make improvements to the design of the vehicle, such as adding a gear system.
Bertha Benz's significant contributions to the development of the automobile are often overlooked, but her determination played a crucial role in the early days of the automobile industry.
Born in the mountains of Southern France in 1951, Michelle Mouton is a rallying great, with a legacy as the first woman to have raced in top-flight rallying, and the first woman to win a major rallying championship.
Between 1974 and 1978 Mouton had great success in both the French and European Ladies Rallying Championships, which included winning the European Championship in Spain in 1977. In the early 1980’s she was given a seat in one of rallying’s greatest names, Audi’s factory team, Quattro. It was in this iconic car that Mouton finished second in the World Driver’s Championship in 1982.
Mouton continued to have an impact on the racing world after retiring from rallying, by co-founding the annual Race of Champions, becoming the first president of the FIA’s Woman and Motor Sport Commission in 2010, and FIA’s manager in the 2011 World Rally Championships.
Born in 1898, not only was Katharine Blodgett the first woman to be awarded a PhD in physics from Cambridge University but is famous for her invention of non-reflective glass that car windscreens still use today!
During her time at General Electric in New York, Blodgett developed monomolecular coating on glass which drastically improved the glass in eyeglasses, camera lenses, aircraft materials, and car windscreens. To further her revolutionary work was Blodgett’s invention of non-reflecting glass which forms the foundations of the technology used in cars rolling out of factories to this day! Not only does this cast a light on Blodgett’s work which is still overlooked, but it’s a perfect example of the long-lasting impact that women had in what was an extremely male-dominated industry.
Similar to Katharine Blodgett, Margaret Wilcox is another example of a revolutionary female engineer whose work continues to impact the car industry today. Born in 1838, Wilcox was one of the very few female mechanical engineers in the automobile industry at the time and is best known for designing and patenting the very first car heater.
Her invention which generated a flow of warm air over the engine and into the footwell of the car formed the basis of car heaters and air conditioning that we all use in our cars today. At the time, her invention solved two key issues with automobiles; firstly it improved visibility in foggy conditions by keeping the windows fog-free, and it also meant that the driver had more control over the temperature of their interior, making driving not only safer, but more enjoyable!
And there we have it! Whilst the list of female automobile icons is very long, we could only feature five today, but we hope we’ve opened your eyes to some of the incredible work and research that women have contributed to the industry that still impacts our driving today.
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