The History of Automobiles – Driving through Time

Posted: September 3, 2010 in Automobiles

The history of the automobile begins as early as 1769, with the creation of steam powered automobiles capable of human transport. In 1806, the first cars powered by internal combustion engines running on fuel gas appeared, which led to the introduction in 1885 of the ubiquitous modern gasoline or petrol-fueled internal combustion engine. Cars powered by electricity  briefly appeared at the turn of the 20th century but largely disappeared from commonality until the turn of the 21st century, when interest in low- and zero-emissions transportation was reignited. As such, the early history of the automobile can be divided into a number of eras based on the prevalent method of automotive propulsion during that time. Later periods were defined by trends in exterior styling and size and utility preferences.

The spaced out history of automobile evolution had also included the whole century of high fuel release cars that had by large increased the overall pollution level of earth. Combustion relation and the high pollution release went hand in hand. The early automobile could be divided by parts automobile propulsion through its changes.

Later times became more dominant with the trends and exteriors styling with the varying sizes and utility preferences of the car. One of the greatest inventors of the car-related theories and techniques was German engineer, Carl Benz. The related technologies of the invention of automobile were the soon regarded as the internal combustion with the greatest inventions that followed in car making technology.

Some of the most prevalent forms of modern automobile history came with the automotive propulsion creation invented by German engineer, Nikolaus Otto.

The similar 4-stroke diesel engine comes with Rudolf Diesel which called for a fuel cell of car resource technology. This replacement came in the place of gasoline. Another German automobile maker, Christian Friedrich  Schonbein, discovered some of the most interesting battery resources for cars. Jedik Anyos, who was the inventor of the electric motor, and Gaston Plante, came with some rather interesting lead-acid battery invention in 1859.

The history of had steam automobiles and the earliest ones were designed by Ferdinand Verbiest, a Jesuit missionary. He designed this car at around 1672 on his mission to China. He made this especially for the Chinese Emperor with the driver or passenger coming to work with the steam powered vehicles. The root of “auto”-“mobiles” thus comes this way, coming to be self powered or steam powered at the base.

Back in the 18th century, Nicolas Joseph Cugnot, showed a demo of the fardier a vapeur, an experimental basis steam driven engine.

Exactly when and where the history of the automobile – surely one of the most important machines in modern society – began is up for debate as it depends on what definition of an automobile is applied to the question.

The word itself is derived from the Greek word `autos’ meaning `self’ and the Latin word `mobilis’ which translates as `moving’. This term was coined as far back as the 14th Century by an Italian engineer called Martini, who drew up plans for a crankshaft driven four wheeled vehicle, but unfortunately never got around to building one.

Wind Power

Martini was not the only one interested in such an idea. The 1300’s saw many Italian inventors, including Vaturio, wrestling with the problem. The first inventor was probably Guido da Vigevano, who drew up amazing plans for a wind powered vehicle as far back as 1335.

Motivated by the idea of building military vehicles to help in the crusades in the holy land which were going increasingly badly for the Knights of Europe, Vigevano’s ‘wind wagon’ held a windmill on the back of a strong wooden carriage. Using information from his original plans, modern engineers have estimated that this could have raced along at speeds of up to 30mph into the wind.

The most famous inventor of all, Leonardo da Vinci, would also later consider automobiles. He designed a tricycle which was clockwork driven, and even boasted differential gearing to aid the rear wheels.

All Steamed Up

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.

But such ideas were not taken up, and it would have to wait until much later in 1769 France, when Nicolas Joseph Cugnot designed a steam powered three wheeler that was intended to pull artillery. Though moving at 2mph and having to stop every 15-20 minutes for a rest, it may not have impressed the generals that much.

Undeterred, Cugnot built another vehicle the next year which carried four passengers, but this was involved in the first known road accident, when a wall got in the way.

Despite this bad luck, the steam idea had its supporters in England, the United States, as well as in France.

The year 1789 saw an American, Oliver Evans, being given a patent for what he called a “self-propelled carriage”. Then, in the early to mid 1800’s, steam powered stagecoaches were a popular service in Britain.

The technology had increased a lot, the vehicles were no longer as heavy and clumsy as they previously were, but the railway companies (at this time Britain led the world in steam train design and build) were not happy with their road rivals, and wanted to get rid of them.

The government did not help either, with bad legislation, and the steam carriages were unable to fight the ban effectively because of the ferocious competition from the railways which was tempting away their passengers.

Though steam as a power source for smaller personal vehicles would survive in common use until the beginning of the twentieth century in both North America and Europe, it was apparent to some that the future development of the technology would be limited and difficult, and the future of the automobile would lay elsewhere.

Electric Trickery

Many people think that electric cars are a new idea, but not so. The spark was born in the 1830’s, either in Scotland, by Robert Anderson, or in Holland by a Groningen professor and ex-pharmacist called Sibrandus Stratingh, who also designed electric boats.

More practical automobiles would arrive shortly after these earliest of prototypes, as the usefulness and power of batteries gradually improved over the next fifty years.

By the 1880’s automobiles were widespread and looked to have a bright future. This increased in likelihood even more, when in 1899 a Belgian racing car named `La Jamais Contente’ that was powered by electricity, set a new land speed world record at 68mph.

Americans were initially reluctant to welcome the electric car (no change there, then) with most of the early design work done in England and France, but this was to change as America embraced them completely at the turn of the century.

In 1897 for example, the Electric Carriage and Wagon Company of Philadelphia would build a large number of electric taxis for operation in New York City. Names like Ryker, Morrison and Woods would be the pioneers on this side of the Atlantic, encouraging the public to buy their horseless carriages with some technical innovation and good publicity.

Wood’s car, called the Phaeton, could travel for just under 20 miles on a single charge, at speeds of up to 14mph, and cost $2000 to purchase. Some could be bought for around half that, but many electric automobiles were in truth luxurious affairs for the ‘better off’ customer.

Despite this, or maybe because of this, they were more popular than steam or the new pretender, gasoline powered vehicles.

Electricity was cleaner and quieter than the shaking gasoline stinkers, and they had no gears, which was just so much effort to contend with. Steam cars also had no gears, but their range (before they needed to be refilled with water) was considerably less than an electric car fully charged up.

So for much of this early period, it really seemed as if the electric car had it all sewn up.

However, this was not to be.

Internal combustion engines:

History of the Internal Combustion Engine – The Heart of 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.

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 to 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, his was a very unsuccessful design.

•           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 JosephÉtienne 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. (See image at top)

•           1862 – Alphonse Beau de Rochas, a French civil engineer, patented but did not build a four-stroke engine (French patent #52,593, January 16, 1862).

•           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. Several years later, Marcus designed a vehicle that briefly ran at 10 mph that a few historians have considered as the forerunner of the modern automobile by being the world’s first gasoline-powered vehicle (however, read conflicting notes below).

•           1873 – George Brayton, an American engineer, developed an unsuccessful two-stroke kerosene engine (it used two external pumping cylinders). However, 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 the 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 (patented in 1887). 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 (DRP No. 37435) 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.

Engine design and car design were integral activities, almost all of the engine designers mentioned above also designed cars, and a few went on to become major manufacturers of automobiles. All of these inventors and more made notable improvements in the evolution of the internal combustion vehicles.

so,hope that you like this post.

for more details on the history of automobile follow the link below:


  1. a little bit off topic has anyone see the sixty minutes program last night about the Bloom Energy..?

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