Auto History Beginnings, Softhard Solutions Auto History Firsts
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Auto History Beginnings, Softhard Solutions Auto History Firsts

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There were many great automobile inventors who started the race in Auto History Beginnings. We will depict the major players on this and related pages.

The Automobile or car or motor as we know it was not invented in a single day by a single inventor. Nor was the industrial revolution started in a single day by a single inventor.

The history of the automobile reflects an evolution that took place worldwide. It is estimated that over 100,000 patents created the modern automobile (via French from Greek auto, self and Latin mobilis moving, a vehicle that moves itself rather than being moved by another vehicle or animal).

Replica of the Karl Benz Patent Motorwagen
Replica of the Karl Benz Patent Motorwagen from 1886, which is widely recognized as the first petrol combustion engine.

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However, we can point to the many firsts that occurred along the way. Starting with the first theoretical plans for a motor vehicle that had been drawn up by both Leonardo da Vinci and Sir Isaac Newton.


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Early History

In 1769, 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 a whopping speed of 2 1/2 mph on only three wheels.

Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot's Fardier and the first automobile accident in 1771
Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot's Fardier and the first automobile accident in 1771.

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. The following year (1770), 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 (see above right picture). 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; however, steam engines were very successfully used in locomotives.


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After Cugnot

After Cugnot several other Inventors designed Steam-Powered Road Vehicles:

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

  • In 1789, the first U.S. patent for a steam-powered land vehicle was granted to Oliver Evans.

  • In 1801, Richard Trevithick built a road carriage powered by steam - the first in Great Britain.

  • 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.

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Electric Cars

Early Electric Cars
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. Electricity found greater success in tramways and streetcars, where a constant supply of electricity was possible.

The History and fall of electric Cars
Around 1900, electric land vehicles in America outsold all other types of cars. Then, in the several years following 1900, sales of electric cars took a nosedive as a new type of vehicle came to dominate the consumer market - internal-combustion engine.


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Business Tips

Some tips on how to avoid business failure:

  • Don't underestimate the capital you need to start up the business.

  • Understand and keep control of your finances - income earned is not the same as cash in hand.

  • More volume does not automatically mean more profit - you need to get your pricing right.

  • Make sure you have good software for your business, software that provides you with a good reporting picture of all aspects of your business operations.


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