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Who Invented the First Automobile?

Abhijit Naik

Though cars have become indispensable as of today, seldom do we take any interest in their history. Not many people would know who invented the first automobile of the world, leave alone what year it was invented.
The history of automobiles can be traced back to the 18th century, wherein various steam-powered automobiles―some even capable of carrying humans―were introduced.
The years to follow witnessed several modifications and the use of new technology, which just improved with time and resulted in modern concepts, such as hybrid cars. Whilst focusing on improving these machines, we seem to have forgotten their rich history.

Milestones in the History of Automobiles

Determining who invented the first automobile can be a bit dicey, considering that there are quite a few contenders vying for the credit. The first steam-powered automobile was invented in 1672, the first electric automobile was introduced in 1830s, while the first automobile with a gasoline engine  was invented in 1885.

First Steam-powered Automobile

In 1672, Ferdinand Verbiest built a steam powered automobile as a toy for the emperor of China. The vehicle was relatively small in size and hence, didn't facilitate human transportation. Though a toy, it was considered the first working automobile in the history.
Almost a century later, in 1769, Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot designed and built a self-propelled road vehicle for the services of the French Army. This three wheeled invention, which had the capacity to clock a speed of 2.5 miles per hour, became quite famous with the army for the years to follow.

First Electric Automobile

Somewhere between 1832 and 1839, the first electric automobile was built by Robert Anderson of Scotland. It was a crude design which was powered by non-rechargeable primary cells. The cost incurred on building and maintenance of these cars was quite high, but they were a lot more efficient than their steam-powered counterparts.
As time elapsed, the popularity of these electricity-powered vehicles continued to soar, only to decline with the introduction of vehicles with internal combustion engines in 1880s.

First Automobile with a Gasoline Engine

The first automobile with an internal combustion engine was invented by Karl Benz in 1885 and patented in 1886. Benz got the patent for this vehicle under the name of his company, Benz & Cie. This three-wheeled automobile sported a four-stroke cycle gasoline engine which was invented by Benz himself.
This invention was a new concept based on several new technological concepts. Being a new concept, it was quite easy for Benz to get the product patented within a year from its invention. This vehicle was introduced in the market for sale in 1888.

First Four-Wheeled Automobile

In 1885, Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach came up with the Daimler-Maybach engine which was smaller, lighter, and more efficient than its traditional counterparts. In 1886, Daimler modified the stagecoach built by Wilhelm Wimpff & Sohn by adding the Daimler-Maybach engine to it, thus inventing the first ever four-wheeled automobile.
Three years later, in 1889, Daimler and Maybach invented the first automobile by coming up with their own design, instead of continuing with the traditional practice of modifying some existing vehicle.
The new vehicle sported a four-speed transmission engine and had the ability to clock a speed of 10 miles per hour―a significant speed when compared with other vehicles of that time.
The word automobile is a combination of two words, the Greek word autos, meaning 'self', and the Latin word 'mobilis', meaning movable.
Going by this, Ferdinand Verbiest should be given the credit for the invention of first automobile―the toy steam-powered automobile he made for the Chinese emperor. But Verbiest's invention didn't make it to the market; the first automobile to do so on the commercial front was Karl Benz's automobile with the internal combustion engine.
With so many vehicles on the list, it becomes difficult to ascertain as to who should be given the credit for being the inventor of the first automobile. However, the fact is that the invention of the automobile was a combined effort of all these men, who built, modified, and adapted various designs to give us what we refer to as the modern automobile today.