The history of the automobile is a long and winding road, and pinpointing exactly who invented the car is not a simple matter. But if you rewind the evolution of cars past GPS, past antilock brakes and automatic transmissions and even past the Model T, eventually you'll get to the Benz Motor Car No. 1, the missing link between cars and horse-drawn buggies.
Karl Benz patented the three-wheeled Motor Car, known as the "Motorwagen," in 1886. It was the first true, modern automobile. Benz also patented his own throttle system, spark plugs, gear shifters, a water radiator, a carburetor and other fundamentals to the automobile. Benz eventually built a car company that still exists today as the Daimler Group.
Long history of the car
Benz patented the first gasoline-powered car, but he wasn't the original visionary of self-propelled vehicles. Some highlights in the history of the car:
- Leonardo da Vinci had sketched a horseless, mechanized cart in the early 1500s. Like many of his designs, it wasn't built in his lifetime. However, a replica is on display at the Chateau Clos Lucé, Leonardo's last home and now a museum.
- Sailing chariots, propelled by the wind were in use in China when the first Westerners visited, and in 1600, Simon Steven of Holland built one that carried 28 people and covered 39 miles (63 km) in two hours, according to General Motors.
- Nicholas-Joseph Cugnot, a Frenchman, built a self-propelled vehicle with a steam engine in 1769. The cart, designed to move artillery pieces, moved at a walking pace (2 mph or 3.2 km/h) and had to stop every 20 minutes to build a new head of steam.
Internal combustion engines
Vital to the modern automobile is the internal combustion engine. This type of engine uses an explosive combustion of fuel to push a piston within a cylinder. The piston's movement turns a crankshaft that is connected to the car's wheels of a drive shaft. Like the car itself, the internal combustion engine has a long history. An incomplete list of developments includes:
- 1680: Christiaan Huygens, better known for his contributions as an astronomer, designed but never built an internal combustion engine fueled by gunpowder.
- 1826: Englishman Samuel Brown altered a steam engine to burn gasoline and put it on a carriage, but this proto-automobile also never gained widespread adoption.
- 1858: Jean Joseph-Etienne Lenoir patented a double-acting, electric spark-ignition internal combustion engine fueled by coal gas. He improved on that engine so it would run on petroleum, attached it to a three-wheeled wagon and traveled 50 miles.
- 1873: American engineer George Brayton developed a two-stroke kerosene engine. It is considered to be the first safe and practical oil engine.
- 1876: Nikolaus August Otto patented the first four-stroke engine in Germany.
- 1885: Gottlieb Daimler of Germany invented the prototype of the modern gasoline engine.
- 1895: Rudolf Diesel, a French inventor, patented the diesel engine that was an efficient, compression ignition, internal combustion engine.