Who Invented the Car

Jean Scheid
Was the Model T the First?

People young and old have pondered the question who invented the car? Most might say Henry Ford at first, but such a guess would be incorrect. While Ford was responsible for modernizing the production of automobiles through his assembly line process, he was not the first inventor of the car.

What Is Considered A Car?

In order to answer the question of who invented the car, it's important to consider exactly what is a car? A car or automobile, according to Wikipedia is "an automobile or motor car that is a wheeled motor vehicle used for transporting passengers which also carries an engine or motor." So, automobiles can be cars or trucks, SUVs and minivans alike! Mostly, Wikipedia points out that "automobiles or cars are constructed to transport people rather than goods."

Who Invented the Car: A History

Many people or teams of people are credited with inventing the car. Here's a look at some of the most famous efforts:

  • Ferdinand Verbiest - Ferdinand was a Jesuit who lived in China. In 1672 he produced a steam-powered auto that was indeed very small; more of a toy really. While no passengers could ride in the Verbiest vehicle, it was propelled by steam.
  • Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot - Cugnot's auto came in 1769 when he claimed to have modified a horse-drawn buggy. Not many were impressed with the Cugnot effort, and it's likely it wasn't really considered a car. After all, it only had three wheels!
  • Richard Trevithick - The Puffing Devil was the name of the Trevithick car. Actually called a road locomotive, Trevithick introduced the Devil in 1801. The Puffing Devil was powered by steam and had its problems maintaining enough steam to keep it going for any length of time.
  • Ivan Kulibin - Ivan's car was a human-pedaled car and only had three wheels. It did possess a brake, a gearbox, bearings, and a flywheel but didn't quite make a hit.
  • Francois Isaac de Rivaz - Francois was a Swiss inventor and came up with an internal combustion engine as early as 1806. Its engine was powered by hydrogen and oxygen and it perhaps was the best idea to date as many followed and improved upon the de Rivaz idea.
  • Gustave Trouve - From France, Trouve revealed a three-wheeled car that used electricity to run. This discovery came in 1881 and was introduced at the International Exhibition of Electricity in France.
  • Karl Benz - Many say Benz actually invented the very first car; or what could be considered a car. Other German inventors like Benz had similar ideas, but it would be Benz who received the credit. First built in 1885 and even garnered a patent, Benz came up with a four-stroke cycle gasoline engine in Mannheim, Germany. He named his automobile company Benz & Cie. By 1888, Karl Benz had his patent and production of the Benz Patented Motorwagen began. Pleased with his success, Benz sold twenty-five cars between 1888 and 1893.

Benz Moves Forward and Others Follow

In as early as 1896, Karl Benz came up with an internal-combustion engine and was the biggest car company in the entire world, selling 572 units by 1899. By 1892 Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach formed the Daimler Motor Company and also began producing internal-combustion engine cars. Benz and the Daimler/Maybach team never produced a car together.

In 1900, with Daimler gone, Maybach called his new car the Daimler-Mercedes, and one could only special order one made from the design of Emil Jellinek. After WWI, Karl Benz wanted a partnership with the Daimler Motor Company, but neither party could come to an agreement, leaving them with an Agreement of Mutual Interest that would remain in effect in until year 2000! That didn't mean they wouldn't jointly advertise and produce cars together, it meant they would keep their companies separate entities. But that Agreement of Mutual Interest would not last long.

Finally in 1924, Benz & Cie and the Daimler Motor Company agreed to a merger, changing their company name to Daimler-Benz. Their first car would be named the Mercedes Benz.

In the United States, George Selden attempted to obtain a patent for a two-stroke engine car, but Henry Ford who had his own invention, was not happy and questioned Selden's work; Selden never received his patent to build a car.

Car Production

The first US car and the first production line came at an Oldsmobile factory in 1902. This production was then greatly improved by Henry Ford in 1914 and the rest, as they say, is history. Ford's idea of production could produce a car every fifteen minutes, far less than the one and one-half hours it took prior to Ford's intervention. Surprisingly, the everyman could afford to buy a Model T with only four month's pay! By year 2008, it is estimated that there were 806 million cars, light trucks, heavy-duty trucks, SUVs, and minivans on the roads with China and India bearing most of that burden. The next time someone asks you who invented the car, you'll have a solid history and quite a tale to tell!

Who Invented the Car