The automobile was born on August 26, 1885.
That is the day Gottlieb Daimler filed a patent for his ‘riding car’, the world’s first vehicle with an internal combustion engine.
The world would never be the same, and 135 years later, engineers and designers are still tinkering with the size, power and performance of the cars we drive and ride.
Daimler put a motor on a two-wheel vehicle, so purists might say this is the first motorized bicycle or the first motorcycle, not the first car. Let’s not quibble.
This was the start of motorized personal mobility.
It took another year for his patent to be awarded, by which time engineer Carl Benz had applied for a patent on a three-wheel motorized vehicle, the Patent Motor Car.
That same year, 1886, Daimler created the four-wheeled Motor Carriage.
- Fabulous fact: the word automobile comes from the Greek auto, meaning self, and the Latin mobilis, or mobile.
These first three motorized vehicles proved that the internal combustion engine was capable of driving a human-controlled road vehicle.
Until Daimler’s little engine, motors were huge, heavy, stationary affairs. Daimler’s design proved that an engine could be small, efficient and powerful, and that a motorized riding car could be a compact design, far smaller than huge horse-drawn carriages. As I said, the rest is history.
A year later, Ransom Olds of Lansing, Michigan developed a three-wheeled vehicle that became known as the Oldsmobile.
By the turn of the century, 1900, Henry Ford was producing cars, and two brothers named Stanley, in Maine, designed a steam-powered vehicle that became known as the Stanley Steamer.
Also, in South Bend, Indiana, The Studebaker Brothers modernized the family’s horse-wagon business by getting rid of the horses and adding a steering wheel and motors.
A lot has changed in 125 years. Many of those original automotive pioneers went out of business or merged — such as the merger between competitors Gottlieb Daimler and Carl Benz.
What has not change is that the automobile is constantly being re-invented and improved. Besides entirely new car companies with names like Tesla and Fisker, there are entirely new technologies powering our vehicles, such as the hydrogen fuel cell, and the plug-in electric car is back, a century after disappearing.
The original Carl Benz three-wheel motorcar is on display at the German Transportation Museum in Munich, and a copy is on display at the Mercedes-Benz Museum, next to company headquarters in Stuttgart.