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January 29: Karl Benz patents the first viable automobile on this date in 1886

January 29, 2014

Today marks the 128th birthday of the modern auto industry, which began when German inventor Karl Friedrich Benz patented a gasoline-powered vehicle of his own design on this date in 1886, powered by a single-cylinder motor good for 2/3rds of a horsepower. But Benz didn't invent this alone; his wife Bertha deserves as much credit for financing her husband's many blind alleys, unemployed years and side jobs that led to the Benz Patent-Motorwagen. And when her husband refused to promote his new invention, Bertha Benz took the world's first long-distance trip in a car in 1888, a publicity stunt that did much to make the Benz the name we remember today. In a journey that lasted three days covering about 130 miles, Bertha Benz performed several roadside repairs, and when the brakes became worn, she asked a cobbler to nail leather pads to the blocks, inventing brake linings.

"In those days when our little boat of life threatened to capsize," Karl Benz later wrote, "only one person stood steadfastly by me, my wife. She bravely set new sails of hope." Here's auto critic Dan Neil driving a replica of the Benz through its new modern habitat: