Women in the Auto Industry

Happy Women’s Equality Day from AA Muffler & Brakes! The automotive industry has a rep for being male-dominated, so we wanted to shine some light on 10 women who have played big roles in automotive history. Check ‘em out!

Florence Lawrence

Florence was an auto enthusiast and often referred to as “The First Movie Star.” In 1914, after witnessing too many auto accidents and becoming frustrated at not knowing which way the car in front of her was going to turn, she invented auto-signaling arms. The device was simplistic. It consisted of two flags which were raised or lowered with the press of a button to inform other motorists of where the car would be turning next. Florence also developed a second simple, yet effective, device to alert other drivers of an upcoming stop. When the driver pressed down on the brake pedal it triggered a small sign reading “stop” to pop up on the rear of the vehicle.

Today, we call Florence’s inventions “turn signals” and “brake lights” and they have become mandatory safety features in the auto industry.   

Denise McCluggage

 Source: Facebook/UK Racing History

Source: Facebook/UK Racing History

A pioneer of women’s equality, Denise McCluggage was a sports journalist for the New York Herald Tribune as well as a professional auto-racing driver. In 1961, she won the grand touring category at Debring and landed a class win in the Monte Carlo Rally in 1964. When McCluggage retired from the racing in the late 1960s she went on to found the automotive magazine AutoWeek.

Denise McCluggage is the only journalist to be inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame to date.   


Charlotte Bridgwood

Charlotte is the mother of Florence Lawrence, mentioned above. When Mary Anderson’s manual windshield wiper became to tedious to use, Charlotte supposedly created and patented the automatic windshield wiper. Unfortunately, she failed to pursue any sort of commercial production for her invention and the patent soon expired. A few years later, Cadillac became the first car company to install automatic windshield wipers in every vehicle they manufactured.     

Danica Patrick

If there’s anyone on this list that you’re likely to recognize, it’s Danica Patrick. Not only is she a successful race car driver, she’s a model and an advertising spokeswoman as well. She still competes in the NASCAR Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series to this day, and in 2013 Danica became the first female NASCAR driver to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole.  

Bertha Benz

 Source: Facebook/Mercedes Benz

Source: Facebook/Mercedes Benz

In 1888, Bertha completed the world’s first long distance road trip which helped the automobile gain some much needed marketing traction. The impetus for this spontaneous 66 mile long road trip was her husband’s hesitation to market his invention, the “motorwagen,” and a desire to visit her her mother. Bertha took her two teenaged sons with her, and along the way she noticed the brakes weren’t working properly. After speaking with a local blacksmith, Bertha was inspired and invented what she called “brake linings.” Today, after many modifications and upgrades, we call Bertha’s “brake linings” brake pads and shoes.

Michelle Christensen

Another automotive lady from modern times, Michelle made history in 2012 as the first woman to lead a supercar design team. She developed and designed the second-gen Honda/Acura NSX. Growing up working on muscle cars inspired her to pursue a career in car design. As a graduate from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA, Michelle knows the importance of proper aerodynamics and what the consumer wants from their supercar. We can’t wait to see what her next designs will bring to the automotive industry!  

Leilani Münter

Though perhaps not as well known as Danica Patrick, this 43 year-old race car driver and environmental activist has our attention. Leilani advocates for environmental change, all while defying gender stereotypes in the ARCA Racing Series. Hailed as one of the top female race car drivers and an “Eco Hero” by Sports Illustrated and Glamour Magazine respectively, it’s no surprise that Leilani Münter is among these top 10 ladies changing the automotive industry.    

Mary Barra

 Source: GM

Source: GM

This Michigan native is at the top of her game as the Chief Executive Officer and Chairperson of GM, making her the first female CEO of a major global automaker. Mary has managed the entirety of the Detroit/Hamtramck Assembly plant, raised over $2 million for scholarships and community art programs through CCS in 2014, and has been listed as number five in Forbes’ list of the “World’s 100 Most Powerful Women” in 2016.

Juliane Blasi & Nadya Arnaout

This two-for-one special is brought to you by the BMW Z4. BMW held a competition for designers to anonymously submit their sketches and full-size clay models of what they envisioned the car to look like. Blasi and Arnaout were chosen as the contest winners and immediately set to work designing the new Z4. The final design was hailed as “more aggressive and more masculine,” pushing back against the stereotype that women can only design soft, fluffy things.  

Jean Jennings

Former president and editor of Automobile Magazine and automotive correspondent for Good Morning America, Jean Jennings has been writing about the automotive industry for more than thirty years. A fellow Michigander, Jean did more than write about cars. She had built her own custom taxi and was part of Ann Arbor’s Yellow Cab Company as an owner/operator by 18; later she went on to work as a test driver, welder, and mechanic for Chrysler. Jean has won numerous awards for her writing, including the Ken Purdy Award for Excellence in Automotive Journalism in 2007.

These are only ten of the many women who have shaped the automotive industry. From inventing the brake light to making history on the race track, these ladies have helped push back against negative gender stereotypes surrounding automotive businesses. Here’s to all the women, past, present, and future, who are spearheading advancements within the automotive industry.