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Auto History Beginnings, First in Auto History, Auto History Firsts

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The industrial revolution had not started in a single day by a single inventor. There were many great automobile inventors who started the race in the Auto History Beginnings.

So who was the first?
Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot is often credited as First in Auto History with building the first self-propelled mechanical vehicle or automobile in about 1769.
Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot's Fardier and the first automobile accident in 1771
Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot's Fardier and the first automobile accident in 1771.

This claim is disputed by some, who doubt Cugnot's three-wheeler ever ran, while others claim Ferdinand Verbiest, a member of a Jesuit mission in China, built the first steam powered car around 1672. He is also credited by many as being the First in Auto History.

In either case François Isaac de Rivaz, a Swiss inventor, designed the first internal combustion engine which was fuelled by a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen and used it to develop the world's first vehicle to run on such an engine. The design was not very successful, as was the case with Samuel Brown, Samuel Morey, and Etienne Lenoir who each produced vehicles powered by clumsy internal combustion engines.

Historians, who accept that early steam-powered road vehicles were automobiles, Nicolas Cugnot was the inventor of the first automobile and was First in Auto History.

Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot (26 February 1725 – 2 October 1804) was a French inventor. Cugnot is recognized as building the first self-propelled vehicle to transport man. Cugnot was at the time an engineer in the French Army. He is believed to have built the first self-propelled mechanical vehicle or automobile. Ferdinand Verbiest, as a member of a Jesuit mission in China, may have been the first to build a 'car' around 1672.

Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot's Fardier de Cugnot
Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot's Fardier de Cugnot, model of 1769.

Cugnot was one of the first to successfully employ a device for converting the reciprocating motion of a steam piston into rotary motion by means of a ratchet arrangement. A small version of his three-wheeled fardier à vapeur ran in 1769. (A fardier was a massively built two-wheeled horse-drawn cart for transporting very heavy equipment such as cannon barrels).


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In November 1881 French inventor Gustave Trouvé demonstrated a working three-wheeled automobile. This was at the International Exhibition of Electricity in Paris. An automobile powered by an Otto petrol engine was built in Mannheim, Germany by Karl Benz in 1885 and granted a patent in January of the following year under the auspices of his major company, Benz & Cie. which was founded in 1883.

Although several other German engineers (including Gottlieb Daimler, Wilhelm Maybach, and Siegfried Marcus) were working on the problem at about the same time, Karl Benz is generally acknowledged as the inventor of the modern automobile. In 1879 Benz was granted a patent for his first engine, designed in 1878. Many of his other inventions made the use of the internal combustion engine feasible for powering a vehicle and in 1896, Benz designed and patented the first internal combustion flat engine.

Approximately 25, Benz vehicles were built and sold before 1893, when his first four-wheeler was introduced. They were powered with four-stroke engines of his own design. Emile Roger of France, already producing Benz engines under license, now added the Benz automobile to his line of products. Because France was more open to the early automobiles, more were built and sold in France through Roger than Benz sold in Germany.

Daimler and Maybach founded Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft (Daimler Motor Company, DMG) in Cannstatt in 1890 and under the brand name, Daimler, sold their first automobile in 1892. By 1895 about 30 vehicles had been built by Daimler and Maybach, either at the Daimler works or in the Hotel Hermann, where they set up shop after falling out with their backers. Benz and Daimler seem to have been unaware of each other's early work and worked independently.

Daimler died in 1900 and later that year, Maybach designed a model named Daimler-Mercedes, special-ordered by Emil Jellinek. Two years later, a new model DMG automobile was produced and named Mercedes after the engine. Maybach quit DMG shortly thereafter and opened a business of his own. Rights to the Daimler brand name were sold to other manufacturers.


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Karl Benz proposed co-operation between DMG and Benz & Cie. when economic conditions began to deteriorate in Germany following the First World War, but the directors of DMG refused to consider it initially. Negotiations between the two companies resumed several years later and in 1924 they signed an Agreement of Mutual Interest valid until the year 2000. Both enterprises standardized design, production, purchasing, sales, and advertising—marketing their automobile models jointly—although keeping their respective brands.
On June 28, 1926, Benz & Cie. and DMG finally merged as the Daimler-Benz company, baptizing all of its automobiles Mercedes Benz honoring the most important model of the DMG automobiles, the Maybach design later referred to as the 1902 Mercedes-35hp, along with the Benz name.

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.

Karl Benz remained a member of the board of directors of Daimler-Benz until his death in 1929.


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In 1890, Emile Levassor and Armand Peugeot of France began producing vehicles with Daimler engines, and so laid the foundation of the motor industry in France. The first American car with a petrol internal combustion engine supposedly was designed in 1877 by George Selden of Rochester, New York, who applied for a patent on an automobile in 1879.

In Britain there had been several attempts to build steam cars with varying degrees of success with Thomas Rickett even attempting a production run in 1860. Santler from Malvern is recognized by the Veteran Car Club of Great Britain as having made the first petrol-powered car in the country in 1894 followed by Frederick William Lanchester in 1895 but these were both one-offs. The first production vehicles came from the Daimler Motor Company, founded by Harry J. Lawson in 1896, and making their first cars in 1897.

In 1892, German engineer Rudolf Diesel got a patent for a "New Rational Combustion Engine". In 1897 he built the first Diesel Engine. In 1895, Selden was granted a United States patent(U.S. Patent 549,160 ) for a two-stroke automobile engine, which hindered more than encouraged development of autos in the United States. Steam, electric, and petrol powered autos competed for decades, with petrol internal combustion engines achieving dominance in the 1910s.

Although various piston-less rotary engine designs have attempted to compete with the conventional piston and crankshaft design, only Mazda's version of the Wankel engine has had more than very limited success.


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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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