he first working steam-powered vehicle was designed – and most likely built – by Ferdinand Verbiest, a Flemish member of a Jesuit mission in China around 1672. It was a 65 cm-long scale-model toy for the Chinese Emperor, that was unable to carry a driver or a passenger. It is not known if Verbiest’s model was ever built. Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot is widely credited with building the first full-scale, self-propelled mechanical vehicle or automobile in about 1769; he created a steam-powered tricycle. He also constructed two steam tractors for the French Army, one of which is preserved in the French National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts.
His inventions were however handicapped by problems with water supply and maintaining steam pressure. In 1801, Richard Trevithick built and demonstrated his Puffing Devil road locomotive, believed by many to be the first demonstration of a steam-powered road vehicle. It was unable to maintain sufficient steam pressure for long periods, and was of little practical use. In 1807 Nicéphore Niépce and his brother Claude probably created the world’s first internal combustion engine which they called a Pyréolophore, but they chose to install it in a boat on the river Saone in France.
Coincidentally, in 1807 the Swiss inventor François Isaac de Rivaz designed his own ‘de Rivaz internal combustion engine’ and used it to develop the world’s first vehicle to be powered by such an engine. The Niépces’ Pyréolophore was fuelled by a mixture of Lycopodium powder (dried spores of the Lycopodium plant), finely crushed coal dust and resin that were mixed with oil, whereas de Rivaz used a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen.
Neither design was very successful, as was the case with others, such as Samuel Brown, Samuel Morey, and Etienne Lenoir with his hippomobile, who each produced vehicles (usually adapted carriages or carts) powered by clumsy internal combustion engines. In November 1881, French inventor Gustave Trouvé demonstrated a working three-wheeled automobile powered by electricity at the International Exposition of Electricity, Paris.
Karl Benz, the inventor of the modern automobileAlthough several other German engineers (including Gottlieb Daimler, Wilhelm Maybach, and Siegfried Marcus) were working on the problem at about the same time, Karl Benz generally is acknowledged as the inventor of the modern automobile.
A photograph of the original Benz Patent-Motorwagen, first built in 1885 and awarded the patent for the concept In 1879, Benz was granted a patent for his first engine, which had been designed in 1878. Many of his other inventions made the use of the internal combustion engine feasible for powering a vehicle. His first Motorwagen was built in 1885 in Mannheim, Germany. He was awarded the patent for its invention as of his application on 29 January 1886 (under the auspices of his major company, Benz & Cie., which was founded in 1883).
Benz began promotion of the vehicle on 3 July 1886, and about 25 Benz vehicles were sold between 1888 and 1893, when his first four-wheeler was introduced along with a model intended for affordability. They also were powered with four-stroke engines of his own design. Emile Roger of France, already producing Benz engines under license, now added the Benz automobile to his line of products. Because France was more open to the early automobiles, initially more were built and sold in France through Roger than Benz sold in Germany. In August 1888 Bertha Benz, the wife of Karl Benz, undertook the first road trip by car, to prove the road-worthiness of her husband’s invention.