One of the most important technological developments in human history, the invention of the automobile resulted in dramatic changes in our society. Unlike other major inventions, the automobile actually came about as a series of separate designs.
Early Milestones in the Invention of the Automobile
It's actually difficult to pinpoint the first car invented. The automobile, as we know it today, is actually the result of over 100,000 individual patents. Various methods of propulsion have been used over the years, and there are countless components and designs that have fallen by the wayside. Here are a few milestones involved in the invention of the automobile:
- In 1478, more than 500 years ago, Leonardo da Vinci created a design for the first self-propelled vehicle, or "automobile." As far as we know, no working prototype was ever created from da Vinci's plans.
- The first working self-propelled vehicle was created in 1672 by Ferdinand Verbeist as a toy for the Chinese Emperor. At just over two feet long, the steam-powered vehicle was not designed to carry cargo or people.
- In 1770, French inventor Nicolas Cugnot created a larger steam-powered, self-propelled car, called the "Fardier." Adapted from a horse-drawn vehicle, the three-wheeled car supported a massive steam boiler and travelled at about two miles per hour.
- Ivan Kuliban, a Russian inventor, created a human-pedaled vehicle in 1780. This three-wheeled pedal car is notable because it included brakes, gears, a flywheel, and bearings.
- In 1806, Swiss inventor Francois Isaac de Rivaz developed the first internal combustion engine. A year later, he created a vehicle for the engine to propel.
- Between 1823 and 1826, British inventor Samuel Brown also created an internal combustion engine. He used the engine to propel a vehicle uphill in 1826.
- In 1824, American inventor Samuel Morey also created an internal combustion engine. Morey used his engine, which was quite similar to modern combustion engines, to propel a vehicle a short distance.
- In 1863, Belgian engineer Jean Joseph Etienne Lenoir created the Hippomobile, a vehicle that ran on hydrogen gas.
Creation of the Modern Automobile
Most automotive historians consider German inventor Karl Benz to be the father of the modern automobile. In 1886, Benz received a patent for the three-wheeled "Motorwagen," and he began selling the vehicles three years later. The Motorwagen ran on an internal combustion engine, sported a steering column, and had an open bench seat for the driver and one or two passengers. Benz continued to revise the design, and in 1893, the Motorwagen received a fourth wheel.
While American inventor Henry Ford cannot take credit for the first automobile, he did create the assembly line, an invention that made today's automobiles possible. Prior to the 1913 invention of the assembly line, cars were produced individually. This method of production was expensive and slow, and Ford's invention of the assembly line made it possible for regular consumers to afford a vehicle.
The invention of the automobile was a drawn-out process, spanning over 500 years. No one inventor can take all the credit for the invention, but several important developments helped to make today's cars a reality. What's more, the period of automobile invention isn't over. New car technologies are being developed all the time!