History of Automobile

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During the prehistoric times, traveling from one place to another was a dangerous adventure. The first wheel, made of heavy wood, appeared around 3500 BCE; it revolutionized the way we traveled.

The ancient Greeks carved teeth around wheels to enable them to lock and turn together and the world’s first gears were born.

History of Automobile

We owe our present automobile glory to the Romans and the Greeks, who gave us roads and gears. With the advance of science, we progressed with speed towards the ultimate invention of the modern automobile.

Automobiles have been around us for such a long time that existence without them now is unimaginable. But did you ever bother to think about who invented it? No need to scratch your brains, here’s everything you need to know about automobiles and the industry. Read on.



Everything about automobile is fascinating. An invention that transformed the meaning of development has a truly intriguing story of its invention.

The world of automobile as we see today has not happened overnight. It has evolved with time as newer and better technologies have come in place. From being a dangerous mode of transport, today cars and other forms of automobiles are harbingers of change and they are the biggest drivers of business and commerce.  It could also help in car battery comparison.

  • Automobile – Definition

Any wheeled vehicle that has its own motor and can transport passengers is defined as an automobile. Till date, more than 100,000 patents have been filed for its designs, all of which have led to the evolution of today’s automobile as we know it.

  • Who Was The Inventor?

This is the fun part. There’s no real inventor of automobiles because no single person invented it. The automobile is a reality made possible through conceptualization by the brilliant, inquisitive minds of many great people. It took time for an automobile to take its initial first shape. It happened gradually and after a lot of mistakes.

So, although, no single person can take the credit of inventing the automobile, it was France and Germany that took the onus of perfecting the concept and bringing the idea to life in the 1800s.

Some say the initial idea came from four-legged animals, while some opine it was Leonardo da Vinci who first considered the futuristic idea of a self-propelled vehicle existing for the convenient of mankind. There are numerous histories and opinions, none of the claims, however, have been established completely till now.

All we can do is thank all those minds who ever thought that automobile was a possibility and made contributions, however, minuscule in making it an integral part of our lives.



It took various trials and errors for us to get the right automobile. Here’s a look at the most significant milestones throughout the development stage of automobile.

  • It is presumed that the concept of automobiles actually got moving when Dutchman Guido von Vigevano drew drafts of a ‘Windwagen’ in the year 1335. What made this drawing interesting was the fact that it had three most important parts of an automobile- an engine, a set of wheels, and gears that transferred the power between the wheels.
  • In as early as the 16th century, Ferdinand Verbiest, a Belgian Jesuit missionary to China created a steam carriage model on the suggested principle of the turbine model.
  • Jacques de Vaucanson is known to have first demonstrated a large clockwork engine propelling a carriage in Paris in the year 1748.
  • It was in the 17th century when famous German Physicist Otto von Guericke invented the first ever air pump and is also credited to first build metal pistons connecting rods cylinders, other small components that were used in an engine.
  • Further, in the 18th century, Philippe Lebon, filed and patented the first coal-engine and suggested the idea of electrical ignition for the first time ever.



Imagine how would transport be defined if steam engines weren’t invented? It was the steam engine that paved the way for modern transport.

Unarguably one of the most important inventions of the Industrial Revolution is the steam engine. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that if it weren’t for the invention of steam engine, the world today would have been a very different place.

Everything from transportation, mining, to agriculture and manufacturing would not have achieved the breakthrough it was able to, had it not been for the steam engine invention.

It is in collective agreement by most of the noted historians that Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot should be credited for building the first true automobile with the help of a steam powered tricycle.

His invention was considered nothing short of magic when it ran for a straight 20 minutes at a speed of 3.6km per hour carrying 4 people in the carriage. It was self-sufficient to run for another 20 minutes after getting some steam power.

Steam Powered VehicleCugnot relied on the theoretical descriptions of the French physicist Denis Papin to invent the steam tractor, even though Thomas Newcomen and James Watt had much to say about it. Cugnot’s engine was the first steam-engine to utilize high-pressure steam without condensing it.

The vehicle wasn’t feasible for mass use; however, Cugnot managed to prove that it was possible to build and use steam-powered vehicles on the road. A replica of Cugnot’s second vehicle is still preserved in the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers in the city of Paris.

This invention brought many great minds to work. Iconic inventors William Murdock in the year 1784 ran a steam engine carriage on the streets of Cornwall, followed by Robert Fourness who ran a steam powered tractor just four years after in 1788.

It was the first ever commercially successful design of Sir Goldsworthy Gurney, that involved the use of highly efficient boiler and made trips as long as 135 km at a stretch and the top recorded speed of 27km per hour.



A car is a collective component of various genius minds at work. Each part has its own story to tell, its own history.


There were many inventions that needed to come together to make the modern-day cars we know today. Starting from the tiniest part that makes for an imperative part of a car to the heavy-duty airbags, here’s a list of all the best of these elements that together makes a car.


Airbags are one of the most important safety features installed in car that protects the driver and the front seat occupant in case of a collision. The patent for first ever invented airbag was registered in the U.S. in the year 1951.

Bendix Starter

Bendix starter is named after Vincent Bendix who got the first patent registered in the year 1910, for electric starters. It was a huge breakthrough especially taking into account the troubles of the hand cranked starters of that era.

Air Conditioning

This amazing feature first came in the 1940 model of the Packard. Air conditioning is the cooling system installed in a car for the vehicle occupants.


Quite similar in design to the railway engine buffers of that period, Frederick Simms created the first car fender in 1901.

Car Radio

The very first instrument of enjoyment in the car – a car radio was invented by Paul Galvin, in 1929. He was the head of Galvin Manufacturing Corporation.But there was no concept of car radios coming along with the car. Car owners had to buy purchase radio separately. It was Galvin who coined the name “Motorola” for the company’s new products. The name represented the combined idea of motion and radio (More recent Inventions are Ham Handheld Radio & Police Scanner which is another incredible achievement  of technology)

Power Steering

As a chief engineer of the truck division of Pierce Arrow Motor Car Company in 1920s, Francis W. Davis understood very well the difficulties of steering heavy vehicles. He went on to develop a hydraulic power steering system that further led to the creation of power steering. Commercial availability of power steering started from 1951.

Cruise Control

A hard concept like that of a steady speed control for the car on road was first invented by a prolific inventor Ralph Teetor. Although blind, he invented cruise control in 1945 and made cars safer in terms of speed control.

Crash Test Dummies

Crash test dummies replace humans when the cars are used to test the strength against crash. The first ever crash test dummy was named as Sierra Sam. It was first created in 1949.


Differentials allow a pair of wheels to rotate at different speeds while driving without any disruption. This invention in the year 1810 transformed the concept of carriage steering.

Crash Test Dummies

Crash test dummies replace humans when the cars are used to test the strength against crash. The first ever crash test dummy was named as Sierra Sam. It was first created in 1949.


Driveshaft, a mechanical part that transmits force and rotation and connects other components to empower the wheels to drive. Louis Renault was the main behind its invention in the year 1898.

Electric Windows

It was very late when electric windows in the cars were introduced. The first time ever Daimler of Mercedes Benz showed the world the electric window concept in the year 1948.


Disc brakes was a superb way of controlling the vehicle when sudden stoppage was required and it was Frederick William Lanchester, a Britain inventor who patented it in 1901.

Windshield Wipers

Mary Anderson in November 1903, got the first ever window cleaning device patented which later came to be known as windshield wipers. It was later used in Model A by Henry Ford.


Gasoline was essentially a byproduct of kerosene. It proved to be a great way to fuel cars. The first gasoline powered car was invented by Charles Edgar Duryea
And his brother Frank in 1893.

Spark Plugs

Also, known as the Lodge Igniter, the first electric spark plug was invented by Oliver Lodge. It is used to light the explosive combustion of fuel in the car’s engine to start the engine.

Internal Combustion Engine

A combustible engine that utilizes fuel’s explosive combustible properties to push a piston within a cylinder is known as internal combustion engine. It was invented by Nikolaus August Ottoin 1876. He went on to patent the first successful four-stroke engine, called as the “Otto cycle.”

Third Brake Light

It was late in the year 1974, when John Voevodsky, a psychologist by profession invented the third brake light. This light was mounted in the base of rear windshields toalert the drivers behind to slow downevery time the driver press his brakes. The light was initially triangle in shape.


The first car electric heater to keep the vehicle occupants warm while travelling was invented in the year 1890 by Thomas Ahearn, a Canadian national.


Eugene Houdry, a French inventor invented catalytic cracking of petroleum feed stocks also known as a muffler in the year 1950.


An odometer is used to measure the distance travelled by a vehicle. Surprisingly, the earliest model of an odometer dates back to 15 BC in Rome. It was the inspiration behind the modern-day odometer invented to measure mileage of a car in the year 1854.


It was Charles Goodyear who first invented vulcanized rubber. His invention came in 1844, almost 50 years before cars could have their first rubber tires. It was after a long time that people understood how to use the vulcanized rubber to create tires for cars.


In 1953, Mercedes-Benz SS & SSK sports cars were the first ever to have superchargers that gave more power of combustion to the engine, thereby, making it a front-runner in the sports car range.

License Plates

Issued in France police in the year 1893 for the first time, license plates law was passed for the first time in 1901 by the state of New York. Later, all countries made it mandatory for cars to have license plates.

Crash Test Dummies

Crash test dummies replace humans when the cars are used to test the strength against crash. The first ever crash test dummy was named as Sierra Sam. It was first created in 1949.


While Panhard and Levassorare, the ones credited with the invention of contemporary transmission installed in their Panhard car in 1895, it was W.H. James who in 1832 created a rudimentary 3-speed transmission for the first time. The automobile transmission, however, was first patented in 1908 by Leonard Dyer.

Turn Signals

Turn signal, an important safety feature was first used in the Buick car in 1938 but it had its shortcomings (annoying ticking noise and poor reliability).

Seat Belts

Seat Belts, one of the most significant safety measures in a car was first patented by a New Yorker Edward J. Claghorn on February 10, 1885.



The first invention is always precious and so was the first car. It was an invention that changed the way we live and look at transport- both personal and professional.

First Car

The start of the 19th century brought along with it the biggest and possibly the most path-breaking invention ever- Cars. With the invention of steam engines, the biggest problem faced by all was the enormous weight of the carriages, which made it difficult to use these crude automobiles in regular transportation.

Wilhelm Maybach for Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft is rightfully given credit by historians for bringing the first ever motor car with all the required essentials with a unique name- Mercedes.

The revolutionary car had a 35-horsepower engine weighed spectacularly less- a meager 14 pounds per horse power. This groundbreaking car could achieve a top speed of 85 km per hour. Such was the popularity of Mercedes that by the year 1909, Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft was producing a little short of 1000 cars every year in a factory with close to 1700 workers. Then came Ransom E. Olds.

Motorized Horse BuggyOne of its kind European technology that between the year 1901 to 1909 made motorized horse buggy with just one-cylinder, 3-horsepower, tiller steered mechanism with a curved-dash design. This simple but efficient motor buggy became a favorite of all with an economical selling price of just $650. It surpassed all the benchmarks by producing 5500 units.

Price was the real game changer in the automobile industry. With transportation requirement getting significant day by day, the need for advanced automobiles at competitive price became imperative.

While Mercedes and Olds were competing in producing motorized buggies, a business minded genius, Henry Ford founded Ford Motors in 1908 with an aim to make automobiles advanced yet affordable.

This was the same year when William Durant brought General Motors to life. This was the start of a big change, a change that transformed the entire automobile industry through its competitive pricing and advanced technologies.



Henry Ford- the man whose entire life was dedicated to automobile advancement. He lived, breathed and loved cars. His contribution is immense in the development of the automobile industry.

Henry Ford

No history of automobiles is ever complete without Henry Ford. The mind behind the best ever evolution of automobiles. Here’s a quick look at his milestone years.

The Young Inventor

Henry Ford, an enterprising young Englishman decided to make the automobile both practical and affordable. He came up with mass production techniques on a moving assembly line, which set the global industry standard. As a child, Henry demonstrated a definite gift for all things mechanical. At the age of 15, he constructed his first steam engine. He left home the very next year to apprentice in a mechanic workshop.

The Never-tiring Builder

In 1896, he built the first self-propelled vehicle, called the Quadricycle, but wasn’t happy with it. He kept on at it, till he put together the very first Ford engine, bringing it spluttering to life on his kitchen table. He mounted an engine on a frame, with four bicycle wheels for movement. This was the very first Ford car.

The Adventurer

Henry worked for the Edison Company for a while, but left it in 1898 to form the Detroit Automobile Company. He faced bankruptcy and loss of image before building several racing cars. In 1901, Henry Ford won the ‘Sweepstakes’ car racing event, beating American Champion, Alexander Winton.

The Global Industrialist

He went on to become one of the greatest industrialists this world has ever seen. He started the Ford Motor Company in 1903, as its Chief Engineer and Vice President, holding back 25.5% of the company’s stock. Mack Avenue, Detroit, became the center of Henry’s mass production of automobiles. The very first car was sold on 23 July 1903, after which there was no looking back. The Ford Model T was assembled at the first Ford plant in Highland Park, Michigan. It was here that Henry Ford assembled automobile parts and started churning out vehicles in a mass production assembly line.

It was Henry Ford who revolutionized the automobile industry. His mass production technique made it possible to book and own a vehicle within a short period of time. The United States government woke up to the need for automobile-worthy roads, and in 1893 the Office of Road Inquiry was established.



Like every industry, automobile too had its own share of problems and shortcomings. It went through its own downfalls and saw a phase where automobile advancement future looked bleak.

Pain of the Automobile Industry

The automobile advancement led to many wealthy businessmen getting into the production of car manufacturing. But it was difficult to sustain in an industry that was constantly upgrading in advancements and had to fight the pioneers such as Ford and General Motors. Soon, the number of car manufacturers dropped to a staggering 44 in 1929 from 253 in 1908.

The Great depression and finally World War II found the likes of Nash, Hudson, Studebaker, and Packard shutting down their manufacturing units. Clearly, the era of easy entry in the car manufacturing industry had ended and fierce competition took over.

During the World War I automobile industry made a huge contribution in manufacturing war vehicles but during the World War II, gasoline and tires were severely rationed which drastically brought down the sales of cars during the war period.



Some facts about automobile that may surprise or even shock you. But nevertheless, they have created history and contributed immensely to make automobile industry what it is today.


  • It was in the year 1789 when Oliver Evans was granted the very first U.S. patent for a steam-powered land vehicle.
  • The first ever steam powered road carriage was built by Richard Trevithick in Britain.
  • Ferdinand Porsche was ordered by Adolf Hitler to manufacture a car named Volkswagen that literally means ‘people’s car’ in the German language. Later on, this car went on to become Volkswagen Beetle.
  • Steam powered stage coaches were a regular sight in Britain during the years 1820 to 1840. These were later banned and paved way for railroad system.
  • In India, the success of Volkswagen Beetle was expected when the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi dreamt of building the “People’s car of India” along with the collaboration with Volkswagen but it was Suzuki that won the contract thus producing Maruti 796 and transforming the Indian automobile industry.
  • Charles Deitz built the steam-driven tractors that pulled the passenger carriages until the year 1850 all around Paris and Bordeaux.
  • Rolls-Royce Ltd that launched its first car in 1907 named SilverGhost, was basically an airplane and car engine manufacturing company, established by Charles Stewart Rolls and Frederick Henry Royce in 1906. Silver Ghost set a record for crossing 24,000 km during the Scottish reliability trials.
  • The 1954 Mercedes-Benz W196R Formula 1 race car was the costliest car ever sold at a public auction. The car was sold for an astounding $30 million at Bonhams in July 2013. The car had thrashed the previous record of 1957 Ferrari Testa Rossa Prototype which was auctioned at $16.4 million. After staying at the top position for a long time, the Mercedes Benz record was broken by 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO which was auctioned at $38 million.
  • Henry Ford launched Model T which went on to become the ‘farmer’s car’. In the year 1916, from the total cars sold across the world, 55 percent of them were Model T Ford, a record no car could break till date.
  • Similar to the modern-day joystick, the initially launched road-worthy cars had a lever instead of steering wheels. It’s functioning and designing resembled quite like that of the joystick.



The invention of automobile did not happen overnight. Some milestone years that proved to be extremely beneficial for the automobile industry are listed here.


  • Year 1769: The first ever self-propelled vehicle was invented by Cugnot and hit the road.
  • Year 1784: The first ever model of a steam carriage was built by Murdoch.
  • Year 1789: The year when Oliver Evans filed for the first ever automobile patent in the United States.
  • Year 1801: A full size steam road carriage was built by Francis Trevithick.
  • Year 1832: The first ever electric locomotive was made by Robert Davidson.
  • Year 1860: Jean Joseph Étienne Lenoir invented the first 2-stroke internal combustion engine.
  • Year 1879: First car runs on Gasoline propelled by Siegfried Samuel Marcus.
  • Year 1885: The first commercially available motorcar was made by Benz Motorwagon.
  • Year 1888: The first gasoline powered automobile hit the road by two engineers Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz.
  • Year 1901: Oldsmobile became the first car to be manufactured in high volumes and dominated the automobile production in that era.
  • Year 1903: Henry Ford forms ‘Ford automobile company’.
  • Year 1908: Ford makes Model T and creates a heavy demand for the same. By 1927, there were 15 million Model T cars manufactured and sold all over.
  • Year 1910: Cars started getting made for racing purposes by the likes o Delage, Auto Union, Mercedes-Benz, Delahaye, and Bugatti facilitated by multiple-stage supercharging.
  • Year 1911: The year when electric starter was invented by Charles Kettering. It revolutionized the way cars were started. He also introduced four wheel brakes and independent suspension.
  • Year 1920: The concept of luxury cars was introduced and the first luxury car was created.
  • Year, 1929: A French luxury car- Hispano-Suiza H6B displays a single foot pedal that applies brakes on all 4 wheels at the same time. Earlier the drivers had to apply hand and foot brake simultaneously to stop the vehicle.
  • Year 1939: Nash Motor Company became the first automobile company to install air conditioning system in cars for the vehicle occupants.
  • Year 1940: Initially built exclusively for army purposes, it was in the year 1940 when the first Jeep model was designed.
  • Year 1951: John W. Hetrick of Newport, PA, U.S was the invented car airbags and got it patented the following year.
  • Year 1971 : Morris Minor – A popular and typical early post-war car exported around the world
  • Year 1975 : Jaguar E-type – A sports car that combined good looks, high performance.
  • Year 1989 : Ford Mustang – The pony car that became one of the best-selling cars of the era.
  • Year 1997 : Toyota Prius launched in the Japanese market and has now become the best known hybrid electric vehicle.
  • Year 1998 : Ford Focus one of the most popular hatchbacks and Ford’s best selling world car.
  • Year 2008 : Tata Nano, an inexpensive rear-engines, four passenger city car aimed primarily at the Indian domestic market.
  • Year 2010 : Nissan Leaf – All electric car and plug-in hybrid correspondingly launched in the US.
  • Year 2014 : Tesla Roadster – The first highway-capable all-electric vehicle in serial production for sale in the US in the modern era.
  • Year 2017 : Ford Fusion Sport First Drive is still a relative bargain, especially relative to the Germans, just like the original Taurus SHO.


The industry of automobile is ever advancing. Every minute a genius, curious mind is creating a technology that will transform the way we look at automobile.


From the steam engine in the 1700s to today’s advanced modern-day cars, the evolution of automobile is a result of over one lakh patents and a lot of trials and errors. Right from the idea stage to the first road-worthy cars, the concept of automobiles evolved with time. Genius, curious minds kept making notable advancements which gave us the very reason to celebrate the charm of conveyance.

Resource Links:

Larson, Len. Dreams To Automobiles. Xlibris

Hughes, Paul A. “History of the electric car: 1828 – 1912, from Trouve to Morrison”.

“American Motorsports Timeline”. crucean.com

“America on the Move; Autocar automobile”. Smithsonian Institution – National Museum of American History

Woutat, Donald. “High Tech: Auto Makers’ History Revisited”Los Angeles Times

Hevesi, Dennis. “Claus Luthe, Car Design Innovator, Is Dead at 75”The New York Times

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