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  • Writer's pictureKathryn Stagg

The Unseen Women Who Shaped the Auto Industry

Line of old cars in a parking lot.
Photo by Carlo D'Agnolo on Unsplash

When we recount the history of the car, it's almost always a male-dominated narrative. Figures like Henry Ford, Karl Benz, and Walter Chrysler loom large, their names christening the vehicles they created and the companies they founded, forever recognizable. It's a history where few, if any, women are featured in the narrative or remembered for their contributions.

But just because we haven't heard of the contributions made by women the auto industry doesn't mean that they didn't exist. Over on Driving, Jil McIntosh has compiled a handy and very compelling list of some of the women who were pioneers of the industry, present in all chapters of car history, from helping test early models to helping design the vehicles that are familiar to us today. Women have served as engineers, designers, and inventors, and Jill McIntosh is helping to highlight their incredible contributions.

Take, for example, Bertha Benz, who helped win the public's confidence in the first successful automobile, sneaking out of her house in the early hours of the morning to take the first Benz on a 12-hour ride that would prove, once and for all, that the vehicle was trustworthy.

Then there is Mary Anderson, the original inventor of the windshield wiper:

"Visiting New York in 1902, she watched a streetcar driver open the window in a storm in order to see. Anderson came up with a rubber blade on a spring-loaded arm, operated by a crank handle inside the car, to clean the windshield."

Unfortunately, like many of the women on McIntosh's list, Anderson wasn't taken seriously; Mary's invention received no funding, and she is not credited as the original inventor because her patent expired without anyone opting to make use of it.

While all the women on McIntosh's list are incredible, they also share a history of being unrecognized, or sometimes ignored, by history. In order to succeed, many of the women on the list had to put up with condescension, like the female team of designers hired by GM in the 50s who were dismissively called the "Damsels of Design" (much to their displeasure).

Still, they perceived and their contributions are an important part of the history of the auto industry. Recognition for their work is long overdue.

For the full list of incredible female auto industry pioneers, check out the original article by Jil McIntosh in Driving.


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