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The history of the automobile

The history of the automobile involves the series of events, innovations and scientific-technological knowledge that gave birth to the automobile. They are the events that allowed it to evolve and finally become what is now part of our daily lives.

Called cars, autos, or cars, land motor vehicles are one of the most successful human inventions when it comes to travel. Its popularity during its more than two centuries of history has been such that a total number of 1.2 billion cars are estimated to be on the road today.

The word automobile comes from Greek and Latin, and implies the union of autós ("by itself") and mobilis ("that moves"), respectively.

Automobile Background

The development of the automobile would not have been possible without the technological and industrial advances brought about by the Industrial Revolution. Among them, for example, the steam engine, whose greatest developer was the British James Watt, and which allowed the invention of trains and, at the same time, the first attempts at automobiles.

Other indispensable technologies for the appearance of the automobile had to do with electricity. This phenomenon was known since ancient times but generated and exploited in modern terms since the last quarter of the 19th century, thanks to the research of scientists such as Gramme, Tesla, Sprague, Graham Bell, among others.

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Finally, knowledge of fuels was necessary, especially the internal combustion engine. In the mid-nineteenth century, when oil exploitation began in the world and the energy potential of this fossil substance became known, it was fully developed.

Why was the automobile created?

The automobile responded to the desire to transport materials or passengers over long distances and, also, at higher speeds. However, it was not the first human invention to try to answer that wish.

Previously there were carts pulled by robust animals, which is known as "blood traction". This transport had the disadvantage of the physical limitations of the animal.

The mechanization brought about by the Industrial Revolution offered an answer: a machine to do the job. One that can be repaired when it breaks down, that can be pushed to the limit and reach enormous speeds, that does not tire and that can be mass-produced, ready for use. This was the car.

Origin of the automobile

The invention of the car comprises different stages that we will see separately, but in strict terms of what we understand today as a car (a vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine and with electrical components) it is accepted that the first example in history was developed in Germany, by different engineers independently:

Karl Benz designed his first model, called the Benz Patent-Motorwagen in Mannheim in 1885. His wife traveled some 80 kilometers to the city of Profzheim in 1888, as a way to demonstrate her husband's invention, which had already been patented in 1886.

Gottlieb Daimler and Willhelm Maybach independently designed their own model car in 1889 in Stuttgart. However, the Benz machine is regarded as the formal starting point of the automobile.

Steam stage

The initial stage in automobile history began with a steam engine. Around 1770, the French inventor Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot created a vehicle that took advantage of steam engine technology, with a vertical two-cylinder engine and 50 liters of displacement.

With his second and improved prototype he managed to reach speeds of 4 kilometers per hour. Ironically, he had the first car accident in history with him, losing control of the device and crashing into a wall.

Cugnot built a third version in 1771, which is still preserved, and served as an inspiration to William Murdoch, who built a similar steam car in 1784, and to Richard Trevithick, who did the same in 1801. These first vehicles led to the invention of the engine brake. hand, gears, and steering wheel, but they had the downside of having to keep your boiler warm.

Petroleum Fuel Engine

The first tests with the combustion engine were held in the early nineteenth century, with relative success. Boats and motor models followed one another from 1807. In 1860 the Belgian Etienne Lenoir successfully drove a vehicle with an internal combustion engine, powered by coal gas.

Lenoir's car mixed air and fuel and used an electric ignition, in a two-stroke engine. That first model served Nikolaus Otto in 1876 to build and patent a four-stroke engine.

Based on this second model, Siegfried Marcus created the first "Marcus Car", with a gasoline-based internal combustion engine, equipped with a low-voltage ignition system that he patented in 1883.

The next step was taken by the German Karl Benz with his first patented cars in 1886, an event that is considered the formal beginning of the history of the modern automobile. From 1900 the construction of these cars were already a common fact in France and the United States. The foundations were laid for the start of the automotive industry.

Electric car

Between 1832 and 1839, Robert Anderson invented the first electric vehicle, which was powered by non-rechargeable electric cells. At the same time, similar devices were circulating, the result of American engineers and others presented at the International Electricity Exhibition in Paris.

It was valued as being quieter and less heavy than steam engines, but there was no way at the time to solve the dilemma of the gradual discharge of electrical cells. However, Camille Jenatzy's "car" of 1889 reached a speed of 105 kmph, a record for that time.

Start of the automotive industry

The first automobile construction companies emerged at the end of the 19th century: the French Panhard et Levassor of 1889 and Peugeot of 1891. Although France was the pioneer in the invention of the automobile, the United States gave the automobile industry its full potential, thanks to to the ideas of Henry Ford.

Ford created the "T" models, which were produced in 1908 in large numbers, thanks to the application of assembly lines, an innovative system that has since been installed in the heart of human industries, called "Fordism."

Henry Ford, Henry Royce and Ettore Bugatti are considered the innovators of the automotive industry, responsible for its growth, expansion and world fame, in what was called the "golden age" of motorsport.

At that time Ford also competed with Oldsmobile and Cadillac, which later merged into General Motors, founded by William C. Durant in 1908. The Dodge Brothers marked their presence from 1914, and anticipated the birth in 1925 of Chrysler.

Shortly after, in Germany in 1926, the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft of Stuttgart, maker of Mercedes, and Benz & Cie, in charge of Benz cars, merged. This is how the legendary Mercedes-Benz emerged.

Importance of competition

One of the aspects that most pushed the automotive industry forward was automobile competition, the sport linked to the automobile. The speed and safety contests started very early, in 1894.

In 1895 the first major automobile race took place, from Paris to Bordeaux and back, between June 11 and 13. The winner was Émile Levassor with a Panhard et Levassor with an average speed of 24.5 kilometers per hour over a distance of 1,175 km.

This type of contest gave enormous visibility to the automobile and the industry behind it, despite the fact that there were no shortage of accidents that exposed the danger that they also involved.

Future of the automobile

The future of the automobile is uncertain. There does not seem to be a new car model that drastically replaces existing ones, despite the dreams that we harvested during the 20th century about flying cars and other similar vehicles.

The industry crisis is energy and ecological: burning fossil fuel destroys ecosystems and contributes to climate change in the process. Furthermore, fossil fuels are a non-renewable energy source and will eventually have to end. The industry response has been timid, but it points to electric cars, such as those created by Tesla Motors Inc.

Automobile history timeline

  • 1885. Benz invents the first automobile with a combustion engine.
  • 1890. Peugeot type 2 prototype announced.
  • 1893. The Benz Victoria, the first racing car, is marketed.
  • 1898. The first Renault car is built.
  • 1900. The commercialization of French cars and American cars begins.
  • 1910. The Ford Motor Company's Highland Park factory in Detroit, USA, opens.
  • 1920. The first sedan car appears.
  • 1928. Plymouth debuts as mid-priced model car.
  • 1964. Ford conquers the market with its Mustang cars.
  • 1990. Japanese cars brands flood the western market.
  • 2000. Honda announces the Insight, a gasoline-electric hybrid in the US.