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Who Invented The Car - What To Know:

Credits: Donut Media


Lots of people tried for hundreds of years to create self-propelled transportation, with each successive attempt building on top of the previous incarnation. Ferdinand Verbiest was a Jesuit missionary hanging out in Peking with Kangxi Emperor. When he wasn't doing astronomy or working on the calendar, he was tinkering in the garage, inventing gadgets to entertain the emperor. He was basically the first carboy. His coolest invention by far was a two-foot-long cart with a primitive steam engine on board. It was basically a plank with five wheels and a boiler that blew steam on a little turbine that turned the wheels and made the car move.

Ferdinand had technically invented the automobile but it was pretty small so you couldn't ride it. So it wasn't really a car. Early steam engines came to prominence in the 1700s, and it was only a matter of time before someone built a full-size machine that followed the principles of verbeist's toy cart. French inventor, Nicolas Cugnot did just that in 1769, with his Fardier a Vapeur. But the gargantuan size came at a cost, the steam wagon only had a top speed of 2 and a half miles an hour. The French army, which was funding the project, was kinda disappointed with the performance. The Fardier was canceled before it makes it to production, but people have built working recreations of Cugnot's design and they're pretty sweet. The front-mounted steam engine looks weird as hell but there's a visible progression from Ferdinand Verbiest's toy cart to Cugnot's machine almost 100 years later. But like the toy cart, the Fardier was not a car either.

Steam engine technology progressed through the 19th century. In 1801, Richard Trevithick unveiled his puffing devil, which wasn't his bong, but a steam locomotive for the road. Trevithick was basically illiterate for his entire life but loved working on machines. The puffing devil was powered by a strong steam engine similar to those used on riverboats. This updated design made the engine much smaller but more prone to boiler explosions. The devil's first test run was a Christmas eve when it successfully climbed up a gentle slope in Cornwall. A few days later, Trevithick took the devil out for another drive. But for whatever reason, he forgot to put out the fire in the boiler and left the devil just sitting outside. With all this heat and steam building up with nowhere left to go, pressure in the tank skyrocketed. And then...POP.

All these inventions so far are kind of cars but each one is missing an element that keeps them from being considered the first car by historians. Ferdinand Verbiest's toy cart thing laid the groundwork for what the car would be but it was just a toy. Nicolas Cugnot realized the practical application of self-propelled travel but was never able to mass-produce it. And the puffing devil kinda made people think twice about steam engines because it exploded. So what would make a car...a car? Well, it has to be big enough to hold passengers, practical enough that it can replace the horse and wagon, and it has to be reliable enough that it won't blow up. Is there any early invention that can do all three? Yeah, a few. In 1858 Jean Joseph Etienne Lenoir invented the first commercially successful internal combustion engine. Being an inventor like the rest of these guys, he decided to attach his engine to a cart. Boom a car. The three-wheeled Lenoir Hippomobile, that's what he called it, made the 11-mile journey from Paris to Joinville le Pont in three hours, not bad.

But because the hippo mobile was basically just an existing horse cart with an engine attached, historians don't credit Lenoir with the invention of the automobile. That honor goes to a guy named Karl Benz. German patent number 37435 was awarded to Karl Benz and his motorized carriage on January 29th, 1886. The Benz patent motorwagen was powered by a four-stroke motor that Karl had designed himself. The 943cc motor produced 2/3 of a horsepower at 230RPM. If the Benz kinda looks like a tricycle, that's because Benz was a huge cyclist and even ran a repair shop before working on the motorwagen. The tricycle layout made more sense to Benz over a four-wheel carriage because it was less complicated, lighter, and easier to steer. Benz worked on this design for years but was hesitant to go into production. But in summer 1888, Bertha Benz borrowed the motorwagen when Karl wasn't looking. She and her two sons planned to make the 50-mile journey from Mannheim to her mom's house in Pforzheim before sundown. She left a note on the table and left at dawn. Bertha has to adjust the carburetor and make other repairs herself and fueled up at pharmacies as she went, She and the boys made it to grandma's house as the sun went down. The trip was the one of world's first automotive marketing stunts and showed people that the future would be driven by the automobile. Without a doubt, the Benz motorwagen is the first real car, both the engine and chassis were developed to function as one unit. Daimler, Mercedes-Benz's parent company, proudly proclaims on their website that they invented the automobile. But the car didn't appear overnight....Verbiest, Cugnot, Trevithick, Lenoir, and many other guys, didn't create the first real car but their contributions were instrumental in helping Karl Benz make his.

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