Whether at the helm of a Formula One racecar or a F-22 Raptor fighter-jet: what does gender have to do with piloting any of these magnificent machines? Nothing actually but the journey for most women pursuing otherwise ‘male-preferred’ vocations is wrought with resistance: male-chauvinism, sexism, whether being over-looked or undermined – all the while pushing through a head-wind of patriarchal fascist orthodoxy.
Therefore, within the context of Women’s Month and in the spirit of women – here are ten women in the automotive world that men should know about.
- Maria Teresa de Filippis. Born in Naples Italy – Maria was the first woman to compete in Formula One Racing from 1958 until 1959.
- Desire Wilson. Proudly South African. Desire is among five women to have competed in Formula One, since 1980, she remains the only woman to win a Formula One race – the British Aurora F1 Championship at Brands Hatch. Consequently, a grandstand at Brands Hatch was named in honour of Desire Wilson.
- Michelle Christensen. Is the first woman in history to lead a supercar design team – of the iconic, now second generation, Honda Acura NSX.
- Bertha Benz. The surname is obvious. Mrs Benz, whose husband Karl Benz, the rightful inventor of the ‘motorwagen,’ in 1888 she became the first person in the world to complete a long-distant trip in a combustion-engine horseless-carriage – from her home town in Mannheim, Germany, to visit her mother in Pforzheim. Along the way she gave her husband’s three-wheeled buggy invention some much needed marketing exposure, made several technical improvements to the engine componentry, as well as an upgrade to the wooden brake-shoes: of which she hired a cobbler to bond the wooden-blocks with a leather overlay thus fabricating the world’s first set of brake-pads. Karl Benz may have patented the first automobile but it was his business partner and co-inventor Bertha Benz who Pioneered it.
- Mary Barra. C.E.O of General Motors. Mary is the first woman in history to lead a major auto-company.
- Florence Lawrence. Though she neither patented her design. In 1914, the famous movie actress and petrol-head is credited with inventing both the first mechanical vehicle turn-signal and brake-light. A flag would deploy either to the left-or-right of the bumper to indicate which direction the driver intended to turn – all by the simple push of a button. Likewise, upon depressing the brake-pedal, a small STOP-sign would pop-up at the rear of the car – an ingenius way of warning drivers at the aft of an imminent stop or yield.
- Charlotte Bridgewood. The apple does not fall far from the tree. Charlotte Bridgewood was mother to Florence Lawrence – an inventor herself – she is responsible for the first automatic windscreen wipers invented in 1913.
- Margaret A Wilcox. Not only was Margaret one of the first female mechanical engineers in America, but in 1893 she invented the first internal car-heater system, as well as both the first combined clothes washing and dishwashing machine – to name but a few. Margaret Wilcox’s invention revolutionized industrial mobility. Before the invention of the car-heater, vehicle sales were extremely slow – during the winter season commuting by car was like being transported inside a mobile refrigerator. However, with a vehicle cabin internal heating system people were more inclined to buy a car.
- Katherine Blodgett. An American physicist who pioneered surface chemistry – ‘invisible’ or non-reflective glass. Katherine was the first woman to receive a Ph.D in physics from the University of Cambridge; and the first woman to be hired by General Electric. Her invention is still used today, called Langmuir-Blodgett Film – you just cannot see it. Except when you looking at it through your front-windscreen, a camera-lens or a submarine periscope.
- Dorothy Levitt. Born in Great Britain – Dorothy Levitt was known as the “fastest girl on earth”. Evel Knievel may have been the reincarnation of Dorothy Levitt – her obsession with horsepower and danger bordered on the bizarre. She was the first person, “forget the first woman,” to set a water-speed record and then the first women’s land-speed record in 1905: which she broke the following year. A pioneer feminist, racecar driver and a skilled mechanic – most men felt emasculated standing within ten-feet of her yet Dorothy Levitt was girlish, womanly, and the epitome of a lady – which earned her another more famous soubriquet, “The Champion Lady Motorist of the World!”.
There are numerous innovations invented by women – an endless list of accomplishments. You get male Tigers and you get female Tigers…but they are both Tigers thus the role of identity should not be confused with the role of function. Therefore to restore balance! I vote the men stay at home to do the washing, ironing, house-cleaning and the cooking…don’t forget the children…while the women go-out and win races.
Written By Dean Joseph