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is the term used to describe a four-wheeled vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine, housed inside the front or back end of the vehicle. In contrast to a truck, which is designed with heavier parts and used for transporting goods, automobiles are designed for operation on roads and for transporting passengers.

The term "automobile" was popularized by the mainstream after it appeared in the New York Times in 1897:

"The new mechanical wagon with the awful name automobile has come to stay."[1]

However, it was a 14th century Italian painter and engineer named Martini that first came up with name automobile when he drew plans for a man-powered vehicle with four wheels. He based the name on the Greek word "auto," meaning self, and the Latin word "mobis," meaning moving.

The term 'car' is also used interchangeably with automobile and comes from the Celtic word "carrus," meaning cart or wagon.[2]


[edit] History

The evolution of the modern automobile cannot be credited to a single inventor, but the efforts and genius of many. In fact, it is estimated that more than 100,000 patents resulted in the invention of the modern automobile. As with many early modes of transportation, the first automobiles were powered by steam engines, then electricity and finally, gasoline engines still in use today.

[edit] Steam Powered Automobiles

The first self-propelled road vehicle was a three-wheeled steam-powered military tractor invented by Nicolas Joseph Cugnot in 1769. Used by the French army to haul artillery, the tractor had a speed of 2.5 mph. A year later Cugnot built a steam powered- tricycle capable of transporting four passengers. Another interesting fact about Cugnot: In 1771 he crashed one of his own steam powered vehicles into a wall becoming the first person in history to get into a motor vehicle accident.

Eventually experimentation on Cugnot's steam powered road vehicles ceased when funding ran out.[3] Historians that accept these early steam powered road vehicles as the first automobiles, credit Cugnot as the inventor of the first automobile. Other notable inventors of steam powered road vehicles include Oliver Evans who received the first U.S. patent for a road vehicle in 1789 and Richard Trevithick who designed Britain's first steam powered road carriage in 1801.[4]


Steam Powered - John Brydon's Salvesen Cart

[edit] Drawbacks of Steam Powered Automobiles

These early steam engine vehicles were powered by burning fuel and heating water in a boiler to generate steam. The steam expanded and pushed pistons inside a crankshaft and turned the vehicle's wheels. The drawback of using steam engines was they were very heavy and added to much weight to be of any use in road vehicles. However, their heavy design proved to be very useful for locomotive transport.

[edit] The First Electric Cars

Sometime between 1832 and 1839, Robert Anderson of Scotland invented the very first electric carriage in the world. His design was crude but led the way for further development in electric powered road vehicles. A smaller electric carriage was invented by Professor Stratingh of Holland and later built by his assistant, Christopher Becker in 1835. More successful versions of the electric car were made by American inventor, Thomas Davenport and Scotsmen, Robert Davidson in 1842. Both men were the very first inventors to actually use non-chargeable electric cells. In 1865, Frenchman Gaston Plante designed a better storage battery. His storage battery was later improved upon paving the way for the future of all electric vehicle design.[5] Early electric cars used rechargeable batteries that powered a small electric motor.

[edit] Widespread Development of Electric Cars

By the late 1800s, Britain and France were the first countries to give widespread attention to the development of electric cars. Electric vehicles were also being built for racing  capable of world record speeds of up to 68 mph. One such electric car was the "La Jamais Contente" developed by Camille Jenatzy.

By 1895 Americans started paying more attention to electric vehicles. In 1891 A.L. Ryker and William Morrison built a six passenger electric wagon. In the 1890s the first fully commercial application of electric vehicles was introduced when an entire fleet of New York city taxis was built by the Electric Carriage and Wagon Company of Philadelphia.[6]

[edit] Electric Cars vs. Gasoline Cars

Electric car manufacturing peaked around 1900. Electric cars outsold other types of cars including steam and gasoline engine automobiles. Electric vehicles had the advantages of no noise, smell, or vibration associated with early gasoline cars. Electric cars also required no gear changing as their gasoline counterparts. They could also be operated on a single charge--not like the long start-up times of 45 minutes required  steam engine car. Roads had also not expanded outside of towns so commuting on local roads to get goods suited the electric car's limited range. Unlike gasoline cars, electric cars also required no manually starting.

[edit] Cost of the Electric Car

The average cost of an early electric car was under $1,000. However, the majority of the electric cars produced were more or less large ornate electric carriages designed for the rich and upper classes. Some of the electric carriages had fancy detailing and expensive materials. By 1910 the average cost for an electric vehicle was $3000.[7] New developments such as better built roads, the discovery of crude oil in Texas, the invention of the electric starter in 1912, and the initiation of the mass production of the internal combustion engine brought about by Henry Ford, witnessed a decline in the production of electric vehicles. Electricity remained popular however for use in tram ways and streetcars. 

[edit] The Advent of the Modern Automobile

Some historians argue that it was not Nicolas Cugnot who invented the first automobile with his steam-powered road vehicle but Gottlieb Daimler or Karl Benz. Both men invented gasoline powered vehicles that ushered in the age of today's modern gasoline automobile. However, it is difficult to pin-point any one person as the primary or first inventor of the automobile.

[edit] Karl Benz

In 1885 German mechanical engineer, Karl Benz, developed and built the world's first practical automobile powered by an internal combustion engine. In 1886 he was awarded with the first patent ever for a gasoline fueled car designed with three wheels. In 1891 he built his first four-wheeled car. By 1900 his company, Benz & Cie., became the largest automobile manufacturer in the world. He was also the first inventor to integrate the building of an internal combustion engine with a chassis.

[edit] Gottlieb Daimler

In 1885 Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach elaborated on Nicolaus Otto's internal combustion engine a step further and patented what is today recognized as the prototype of the world's first practical and modern gasoline engine. Their engine, small, lightweight, fast and designed with a gasoline-injected carburetor and  vertical cyclinder, revolutionized early car design. In 1886 he took a stage coach and adapted it to fit his engine. Thereby he too has been credited with inventing the world's first four-wheeled automobile. [8] 

[edit] Early Developments in Gasoline Automobiles

By the early 1900s gasoline cars were the outselling both electric and steam engine vehicles. France lead the way in manufacturing many of the world's first gas powered cars for commercial resale. French companies such as Panhard & Levassor and Peugeot built entire motor vehicles from the ground up unlike Daimler and Gottlieb who patented their engine designs and sold the engines directly to manufacturers. Panhard & Levassor built their first complete car in 1890 using a Daimler engine. Other design features of Panhard-Levassor vehicles were a pedal-operated clutch, a chain transmission leading to a change-speed gearbox, and a front radiator. Levassor was also the first car designer to move the engine from the back of the car to the front and use a rear-wheel drive layout. Both men have also been credited with the invention of the modern transmission.[9] Panhard & Levassor also shared licensing rights to Daimler motors with Armand Peugot. French manufacturers did not standardize car models. Each car was built completely different. The first standardized vehicle was the Benz Velo in 1895 and only 134 were produced.

[edit] The Rise of Mass Production

Ford Model T
In America, the first gasoline-powered commercial car manufacturers were Charles and Frank Duryea--bicycle manufacturers who took an interest in gasoline engines. In 1893 the two brothers built their first gasoline powered automobile. Their company, called the Duryea Motor Wagon Company, produced thirteen different models of the Duryea, an expensive limousine car which was produced until the 1920s. 

The first mass produced automobile in America called the Curved Dash Oldsmobile was delivered by Ransome Eli Olds. Olds also first introduced the concept of assembly line production and started up Detroit's automobile industry. His Detroit-based company, Old Motor Works, was well-known for producing low-priced cars. He emerged as America's leading automobile manufacturer between 1901 to 1904 until the Ford Motor Company was established in 1903 by Henry Ford. Ford would introduce an improved assembly line with conveyor belts,  reducing production costs for cars by reducing assembly line time. In 1908 Henry Ford mass produced the Model T automobile. The Model T was widely received. More than 15 million units were sold by 1927.[10]

[edit] References

  1. The History of the Automobile. 09-11-2009.
  2. The History of the Automobile. 09-11-2009.
  3. The History of the Automobile. Early Steam Powered Cars. 10-11-2009.
  4. The History of the Automobile. Early Steam Powered Cars. 10-11-2009.
  5. The History of Electric Vehicles. The Early Years - Electric Cars (1890 - 1930). 10-11-2009.
  6. The History of Electric Vehicles. The Early Years - Electric Cars (1890 - 1930). 10-11-2009.
  7. The History of Electric Vehicles. The Early Years - Electric Cars (1890 - 1930). 10-11-2009.
  8. The History of the Automobile. The Internal Combustion Engine and Early Gas-Powered Cars. 10-11-2009.
  9. The History of the Automobile. The First Mass Producers of Car - The Assembly Line. 10-11-2009.
  10. The History of the Automobile. The First Mass Producers of Car - The Assembly Line. 10-11-2009.