Histoire Automobile

The Early Years of the Automobile Development

A short and incomplete summary of the development of automobiles, starting with the first steam powered vehicles to the first actual automobiles.

1700 – 1799


First Self-Propelled Vehicle

French Army Captain Cugnot was one of the first to employ successfully 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. (Afardier was a massively built two-wheeled horse-drawn cart for transporting very heavy equipment such as cannon barrels). In 1770, a full-size version of the fardier à vapeur was built, specified to be able to carry 4 tons and cover 2 lieues (7.8 km or 4.8 miles) in one hour, a performance it never achieved in practice. The vehicle, which weighed about 2.5 tonnes tare, had two wheels at the rear and one in the front where the horses would normally have been; this front wheel supported the steam boiler and driving mechanism. The power unit was articulated to the "trailer" and steered from there by means of a double handle arrangement. One source states that it seated four passengers and moved at a speed of 3.6 km/h.

1800 – 1900


Britain's Improvement to the Steam Power Engine

Richard Trevithick improved the design of steam engines, by making the engines smaller and lighter with stronger boilers, thus making more power. His new invention was the first steam powered car powerful enough to carry passengers.


More Engine Improvements

English engineer, Samuel Brown invented an engine to burn a mixture of oxygen hydrogen gas, making it even more powerful.


First Coal-Gas Engine

Jean Joseph Etienne Lenoir developed a two-stroke, internal combustion engine. It was fueled by coal gas and started by a electric spark-ignition.


First Speed Limit

The first speed limit was set in the UK limiting the drivers to only go 2 MPH, which held for 30 years.


First Four-Stroke Engine

Three types of internal combustion engines were designed by German inventors Nikolaus Otto and his partner Eugen Langen. The models were a failed 1862 compression engine, an 1864 atmospheric engine, and the 1876 Otto cycle engine known today as the “Gasoline Engine.” The engines were initially used for stationary installations, as Otto had no interest in transportation. Other makers such as Daimler perfected the Otto engine for transportation use.


First practical electric cars

English inventor Thomas Parker, who was responsible for innovations such as electrifying the London Underground, overhead tramways in Liverpool and Birmingham, and the smokeless fuel coalite, built the first production electric car in London in 1884, using his own specially designed high-capacity rechargeable batteries. Parker's long-held interest in the construction of more fuel-efficient vehicles led him to experiment with electric vehicles. He also may have been concerned about the malign effects smoke and pollution were having in London.


First Real Long-Distance Drive

Bertha Benz (3 May 1849 – 5 May 1944) was the wife and business partner of automobile inventor Karl Benz. On 5 August 1888, without telling her husband and without permission of the authorities, Benz drove with her sons Richard and Eugen, thirteen and fifteen years old, in one of the newly constructed Patent Motorwagen automobiles – from Mannheim (Germany) to Pforzheim (Germany) – becoming the first person to drive an automobile over a real distance. Motorized drives before this historic trip were merely very short trial drives, returning to the point of origin, made with mechanical assistants. This pioneering tour had a one-way distance of about 106 km (66 mi).

On the way, she solved numerous problems. She had to find ligroin as a fuel; this was available only at apothecary shops, so she stopped in Wiesloch at the city pharmacy to purchase the fuel. A blacksmith had to help mend a chain at one point. The brakes needed to be repaired and, in doing so, Bertha Benz invented brake lining. She also had to use a long, straight hatpin to clean a fuel pipe, which had become blocked, and to insulate a wire with a garter. She left Mannheim around dawn and reached Pforzheim somewhat after dusk, notifying her husband of her successful journey by telegram. She drove back to Mannheim the next day

Along the way, several people were frightened by the automobile and the novel trip received a great deal of publicity, as she had sought. The drive was a key event in the technical development of the automobile. The pioneering couple introduced several improvements after Bertha’s experiences. She reported everything that had happened along the way and made important suggestions, such as the introduction of an additional gear for climbing hills and brake linings to improve brake-power.


First Car Dealership

Rene Panhard and Emile Levassor set up the worlds first car dealer, located in France. Both inventors formed the “Panhard et Levassor” car manufacturer in 1887 and sold their first car in 1890, which was based on a Daimler engine license.


First four-cylinder, four-stroke engine

Wilhelm Maybach built the first four-cylinder, four-stroke engine. Three years later, he made the first spray-nozzle carburettor, Then ten years later, he developed a race car using lightweight materials with a 35-hp four-cylinder engine and two carburettors. Named the Mercedes, the car reached 40MPH, shattering the world speed record.

1900 – 1999


Ford Model T

The Ford Model T (colloquially known as the Tin Lizzie, Tin Lizzy, T‑Model Ford, Model T, or T) is an automobile that was produced by Henry Ford’s Ford Motor Company from October 1, 1908, to May 27, 1927. It is generally regarded as the first affordable automobile.


Charles F. Kettering

Charles F. Kettering invented the electric ignition and starter motor, allowing cars to start themselves. He then later introduced independent suspension, and four-wheel brakes.


First Assembly Line

In the early 1900’s, the knowledge and skills needed by a factory worker were reduced to 84 areas. When first introduced, the Ford Model T used the building methods typical at the time, assembly by hand, and production was small. Ford’s Piquette plant could not keep up with demand for the Model T, and only 11 cars were built there during the first full month of production. More and more machines were used to reduce the complexity within the 84 defined areas. In 1910, after assembling nearly 12,000 Model Ts, Henry Ford moved the company to the new Highland Park complex.

As a result, Ford’s cars came off the line in three-minute intervals, much faster than previous methods, reducing production time by a factor of eight (requiring 12.5 hours before, 93 minutes afterwards), while using less manpower. By 1914, the assembly process for the Model T had been so streamlined it took only 93 minutes to assemble a car.

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