The Invention of the Automobile

I have chosen this topic because I absolutely love cars and am astonished by them. It may seem out of place for me to say this because I am a girl but I always wondered who came up with the idea of building the 1st automobile and how its changed during the time of history? What kind of people used what kind of cars? And how important it is and was during the time it was 1st introduced to the world? I know that now almost anyone who is physically capable of driving wants to and does drives. To some it’s a trill to drive, especially teenagers, and to others who have been driving most their lives are sick and tired of it.

I don’t know a single person that knows who actually invented the automobile. First of all that question cannot be answered with only one simple answer because more then one person invented the automobile. I’m sure you’re interested in finding out too so buckle your seat belt because here we go…..

The automobile as we know it was not invented in a single day by a single inventor. The history of the automobile took place worldwide, from 1769-1950’s (approximate) It is estimated that over 100,000 patents created the modern automobile. However, there are many “starters” that started the process.

The first theoretical plans for a motor vehicle have been drawn up by both Leonardo da Vinci and Isaac Newton. In 1769-1770, 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 the 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. In1770, 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 but, 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.”

Later Cugnot’s vehicle was improved by Frenchman, Onesiphore Pecqueur, who also invented the first differential gear.

The first automobile to carry passengers was built by the British inventor Richard Trevithick in 1801. In December of that year, Trevithick tested a successful road test of his vehicle, which carried several passengers, on an open road near his native town, Illogan. His success was due to the efficiency and smaller size of his power unit, which was the first to have the piston moved by steam at high pressure. Earlier power units had pistons that moved as a result of atmospheric pressure against the vacuum produced by the condensation of steam.

The quantity of water needed for this condensation necessarily to make impossible to use these earlier engines for vehicles. Later, Trevithick successfully embodied his power plant in a locomotive for rails. He is considered the founder of both road and rail automotive transportation.

In 1789, the first U.S. patent for a steam-powered land vehicle was granted to Oliver Evans. In 1803 he built a self-propelled steam dredge, which is regarded as the first self-propelled vehicle to operate over American roads. Improvement in the steam engine and in vehicles continued, especially in England, and by 1830 steam coaches were in regular daily use to transport passengers over English roads. But in 1831, legislation in England forced the steam coaches off the roads, and by 1860 development of self-propelled vehicles eventually stopped. Meanwhile in France and Germany attention turned to the development of the internal-combustion engine.

In Britain, from 1820 to 1840, steam-powered stagecoaches were in regular service. These were later banned from public roads and Britain’s railroad system developed as a result.

Steam-driven road tractors built by Charles Deitz pulled passenger carriages around Paris and Bordeaux up to 1850.

In the United States, numerous steam coaches were built from 1860 to 1880. Inventors included: Harrison Dyer, Joseph Dixon, Rufus Porter, and William T. James.

Amedee Bollee Sr. built advanced steam cars from 1873 to 1883. The “La Mancelle” built in 1878, had a front-mounted engine, shaft drive to the differential, chain drive to the rear wheels, steering wheel on a vertical shaft and driver’s seat behind the engine. The boiler was carried behind the passenger compartment. In 1871, Dr. J. W. Carhart, professor of physics at Wisconsin State University, and the J. I. Case Company built a working steam car that won a 200-mile race.

Steam engines were not the only engines used in early automobiles. Vehicles with electrical engines were also invented. Between 1832 and 1839 (the exact year is uncertain), Robert Anderson of Scotland invented the first electric carriage. Electric cars used rechargeable batteries that powered a small electric motor. The vehicles were heavy, slow, expensive, and needed to stop for recharging frequently. Both steam and electric road vehicles were abandoned in favor of gas-powered vehicles.

The high-speed internal-combustion motor of the German engineer Gottlieb Daimler revolutionized the automobile industry. 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. His four-cycle, single-cylinder motor, patented in 1887, achieved speeds many times those of any previous engine, producing many times the power for the same weight. In 1889 he developed a two-cylinder engine that gave still greater power; the cylinders were in a V-type configuration.

This engine design was adopted by a French manufacturer, Émile Levassor, who launched experiments in 1891 that subsequently led his firm, Panhard et Levassor, into automobile manufacture. Levassor’s first automobile, produced in 1894, not only incorporated the Daimler engine but also was the first car in which the working parts were arranged in the operational sequence still used in present-day models.

That is, the engine was in front, followed by the clutch, gearbox, propeller shaft, and differential and driving axle. The superiority of the high-speed Daimler engine over the then highly developed steam engine was conclusively demonstrated at the famous Paris-Bordeaux Race of 1895. The first car, propelled by a Daimler engine, came in six hours ahead of the second car, and the next three cars to finish were all propelled by Daimler engines. Another pioneer with the gasoline engine was the German engineer Karl Benz, who in 1885, working independently of Daimler, produced a mechanically propelled tricycle.

In the United States, pioneer automobile manufacturers were very active in the 1890s. Charles Edgar Duryea and his brother Frank Duryea brought out their horseless carriage in 1892-1893; the design of 1894 had two cylinders. Elwood Haynes constructed his automobile about the same time, and Alexander Winton produced his in 1896. Henry Ford produced his first car, an experimental model, in 1893.

A brief outline of the history of the internal combustion engine includes the following highlights:

1680 – Dutch physicist, Christian Huygens designed (but never built) an internal combustion engine that was be fueled with gunpowder.

1807 – Francois Isaac de Rivaz of Switzerland invented an internal combustion engine that used a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen for fuel. Rivaz designed a car for his engine – the first internal combustion powered automobile.

However, this was a very unsuccessful vehicle.

1824 – English engineer, Samuel Brown adapted an old Newcomen steam engine to burn gas, and he used it to briefly power a vehicle up Shooter’s Hill in London.

1858 – Belgian-born engineer, Jean Joseph Étienne Lenoir invented and patented (1860) a double-acting, electric spark-ignition internal combustion engine fueled by coal gas. In 1863, Lenoir attached an improved engine (using petroleum and a primitive carburetor) to a three-wheeled wagon that managed to complete an historic fifty-mile road trip.

1862 – Alphonse Beau de Rochas, a French civil engineer, patented but did not build a four-stroke engine.

1864 – Austrian engineer, Siegfried Marcus, built a one-cylinder engine with a crude carburetor, and attached his engine to a cart for a rocky 500-foot drive. It was the world’s first gasoline-powered vehicle. Several years later, Marcus was able to design a vehicle that briefly ran at 10 mph, that some historians consider was the forerunner of the modern automobile.

1873 – George Brayton, an American engineer, developed an unsuccessful two-stroke kerosene engine (it used two external pumping cylinders). But, it was considered the first safe and practical oil engine.

1866 – German engineers, Eugen Langen and Nikolaus August Otto improved on Lenoir’s and de Rochas’ designs and invented a more efficient gas engine.

1876 – Nikolaus August Otto invented and later patented a successful four-stroke engine, known as the “Otto cycle.”

1876 – The first successful two-stroke engine was invented by Sir Dougald Clerk.

1883 – French engineer, Edouard Delamare-Debouteville, built a single-cylinder four-stroke engine that ran on stove gas. It is not certain if he did indeed build a car, however, Delamare-Debouteville’s designs were very advanced for his time – ahead of both Daimler and Benz in some ways at least on paper.

1885 – Gottlieb Daimler invented what is often recognized as the prototype of the modern gas engine – with a vertical cylinder, and with gasoline injected through a carburetor. Daimler first built a two-wheeled vehicle the “Reitwagen” (Riding Carriage) with this engine and a year later built the world’s first four-wheeled motor vehicle.

1886 – On January 29, Karl Benz received the first patent for a gas-fueled car.

1889 – Daimler built an improved four-stroke engine with mushroom-shaped valves and two V-slant cylinders.

1890 – Wilhelm Maybach built the first four-cylinder, four-stroke engine.

In conclusion I think that every single one of these clever inventors were needed in order for us to have and drive the automobiles that we are privileged to have and to drive today. There isn’t one man that we can thank but rather many. I have great appreciation for all of these smart men that sat down and came up with a way to make an automobile.

Some even risked there lives to test drive these automobile, they did not have the dummies that we now have, they were the dummies in there era. I don’t think that there is anything used more (useful) in a single day then the car. People depend on them to go to work, take there kids to school, run errands, go on vacations, visit loved ones, and so on. I mean who would want to sit in a bus rather, then a car, where they are to themselves in private. Not me that’s for sure.

I have all of these men to thank, for giving me the chance today to have my own car and to get behind the wheel and feel relatively safe considering the fact that it has gone trough a lot during the first years it was invented and it has gotten more sturdy, it runs much more smoothly, it is safer with more safety features like the seatbelt and airbags and the list can go on and on. Now we have a wide selection of the cars that we can drive and most of us afford. There are cars that are used by big families such as the van, or trucks that are used for many purposes, by workers, or the sports car driven by teenagers and successful businessmen.

There are the convertible cars that some people like to drive, then there are the very expensive cars that a lot of people dream of but can never afford, such as Bentley, Rolls Royce. And last but not least my favorite cars the fast, sexy, luxurious sports cars such as Ferrari and Lamborghini. I don’t know any other way to end this enjoyable peace of paper but to say that I love cars and Thank God for the people that are responsible for the invention of the automobile, so drive safe and have a good life with your car. The end.


1)The World Book Volume 1


3)Microsoft Encarta 96 and 97

4)Encyclopedia 1993-1995