By definition an automobile or car is a wheeled vehicle that carries its own motor and transports passengers. The automobile as we know it was not invented in a single day by a single inventor. The history of the automobile reflects an evolution that took place worldwide. It is estimated that over 100,000 patents created the modern automobile. You can point to the many firsts that occurred along the way to producing the modern car; and with that goal in mind, highlighted below are articles, biographies, timelines, and photo galleries related to the history of the automobile and its many inventors.
The History of the Automobile
Early Steam Powered Cars
The automobile as we know it was not invented in a single day by a single inventor. The history of the automobile reflects an evolution that took place worldwide. It is estimated that over 100,000 patents created the modern automobile. However, we can point to the many firsts that occurred along the way. Starting with the first theoretical plans for a motor vehicle that had been drawn up by both Leonardo da Vinci and Isaac Newton.
In 1769, the very first self-propelled road vehicle was a military tractor invented by French engineer and mechanic, Nicolas Joseph Cugnot (1725 - 1804). Cugnot used a steam engine to power his vehicle, built under his instructions at the Paris Arsenal by mechanic Brezin. It was used by the French Army to haul artillery at a whopping speed of 2 1/2 mph on only three wheels. The vehicle had to stop every ten to fifteen minutes to build up steam power.
The steam engine and boiler were separate from the rest of the vehicle and placed in the front (see engraving above). The following year (1770), Cugnot built a steam-powered tricycle that carried four passengers. In 1771, Cugnot drove one of his road vehicles into a stone wall, making Cugnot the first person to get into a motor vehicle accident. This was the beginning of bad luck for the inventor.
After one of Cugnot's patrons died and the other was exiled, the money for Cugnot's road vehicle experiments ended. Steam engines powered cars by burning fuel that heated water in a boiler, creating steam that expanded and pushed pistons that turned the crankshaft, which then turned the wheels.
During the early history of self-propelled vehicles - both road and railroad vehicles were being developed with steam engines. (Cugnot also designed two steam locomotives with engines that never worked well.) Steam engines added so much weight to a vehicle that they proved a poor design for road vehicles; however, steam engines were very successfully used in locomotives. Historians, who accept that early steam-powered road vehicles were automobiles, feel that Nicolas Cugnot was the inventor of the first automobile.
Old Engraving depicting the 1771 crash of Nicolas Joseph Cugnot's steam-powered car into a stone wall.
The Internal Combustion Engine and Early Gas-Powered Cars
The very first self-powered road vehicles were powered by steam engines and by that definition Nicolas Joseph Cugnot of France built the first automobile in 1769 - recognized by the British Royal Automobile Club and the Automobile Club de France as being the first.
So why do so many history books say that the automobile was invented by either Gottlieb Daimler or Karl Benz? It is because both Daimler and Benz invented highly successful and practical gasoline-powered vehicles that ushered in the age of modern automobiles. Daimler and Benz invented cars that looked and worked like the cars we use today. However, it is unfair to say that either man invented "the" automobile.
An internal combustion engine is any engine that uses the explosive combustion of fuel to push a piston within a cylinder - the piston's movement turns a crankshaft that then turns the car wheels via a chain or a drive shaft. The different types of fuel commonly used for car combustion engines are gasoline (or petrol), diesel, and kerosene.
Car Engine History
1680 -Christian Huygens designed an internal combustion engine fueled by gunpowder. 1807 -Francois Isaac de Rivaz invented internal combustion engine that used a mix of hydrogen and oxygen for fuel. 1824 - Samuel Brown adapted an Old Newcomen steam engine to burn gas. 1858 -Jean Joseph Etienne Lenoir invented and patented a double-acting, electric spark-ignition internal combustion engine. 1862 -Alphonse Beau de Rochas patented a four-stroke engine. 1864 -Siegfried Marcus, built a one-cylinder engine with a crude carburetor.
1873 -George Brayton developed an unsuccessful two-stroke engine. 1866 -Eugen Langen and Nikolaus August Otto improved on Lenoir’s and Alphonse Beau de Rochas's designs. 1876-Nikolaus August Otto invented a successful four-stroke engine. 1876 -The first successful two-stroke engine was created by Sir Dougald Clerk. 1883 -Edouard Delamare-Debouteville, built a single-cylinder four-stroke engine that was fueled by stove gas. 1885 -Gottlieb Daimler invented the prototype of the modern engine. 1886 -On January 29, Karl Benz received the first patent.
1889-Daimler built an improved four-stroke engine. 1890-Wilhelm Maybach built the first four-stroke four-cylinder engine.