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When Was the Car Invented?

By Kathleen Burgess


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When was the car invented? The cars that we see and use today did not always look and function the way they did several decades ago. It progressed for years, starting from a very basic automobile design. It has simple controls, a simple motor, and driving mechanism. Today, cars can do so much more. They offer several extra features that people before may not even have imagined. Cars today can talk, give driving directions, and even call your family on the phone.

We’ve come a long way in our advancement in this technology. That is why it’s great to look back on how it all started. There are different eras concerning the evolution of how and when was the car invented. It’s divided by trends in the car’s exterior, the size, and some functionalities. If you do a search online on who invented the automobile, you will see different names pop up. It’s difficult to associate the invention of the car to only one person. Unlike the invention of other things such as the light bulb or the radio.

Most answers will tell you it was Karl Benz because he patented the three-wheeled motor car in 1886. He developed a petrol or gasoline-powered automobile. Then he eventually built his car company known today as the Daimler Group. Leonardo da Vinci played a major role in the car designs history. That’s because he created various designs and models for transport vehicles. He sketched horseless and carts that are mechanized though these were not built in his lifetime.

Automobile Power Sources

Let us first take a look at how the first cars were powered. People back then searched for reliable power sources that can be portable. They also wanted to place it in the engine to propel the vehicle. This is a great start in looking at when was the car invented as a whole.

  • Steam

    In 1769, a French man called Nicholas-Joseph Cugnot built an experimental steam-driven tractor. But they decided it was impractical because it moved at a walking pace so they abandoned it.

    In the 19th century, people made other attempts to make practical vehicles powered by steam. This is an important part of when was the car invented. They innovated hand brakes and a multi-speed transmission. They also improved the steering. Some of these vehicles became successful and provided mass transit. But some legislation halted it. Another French man, Amedee Bollee built self-propelled steam road vehicles in 1873 to transport groups of passengers.

    In the United States, Dr. JW Carhart invented a steam-powered vehicle. This was the first cart sized automobile for use on wagon roads.

  • Electric

    A Hungarian with the name Anyos Jediik invented an initial type of electric motor in 1828 and made a small car model with it. But they considered the invention of Andreas Flocken in 1888 as the first real electric car of the world.

    Although there were a great level of comfort and ease of operation in electric vehicles in the late 19th and early 20th century, the mass production of gasoline vehicles by companies such as Ford Motor Company reduced gasoline car prices to more than half of electric cars. So there was a decline in the use of electric propulsion, later removing it from the market. This is a remarkable phase in the history of when was the car invented. Today, however, we see new interests in electric vehicles because of concerns such as environmental impact and rising gasoline prices.

  • Internal Combustion Engines

    This is vital to understanding the modern cars. Internal combustion engines use an explosive combustion of fuel which will push a piston within a cylinder. This movement will turn the shaft connected to the car’s wheels. Early attempts in using these types of engines were hampered because of a lack of fuels so they used a mixture of gases.

    The first practical automobiles with petrol or gasoline powered internal combustion engines were made simultaneously by different German inventors who worked independently. This includes Karl Benz who built his first automobile in 1885. He is a significant person to look into in understanding when was the car invented. He had a patent for his automobile in 1886. His wife Bertha Benz proved with the car’s first long distance trip that it was suitable for daily use.

    But it was Gottlieb Daimler who invented the prototype of the modern gasoline engine in 1885.

Karl Benz

The reason that Karl Benz got the credit for inventing the automobile is that his invention was practical, unlike the others. His car used gasoline-powered internal combustion engine and it worked like cars do today.

They were poor as he was growing up but his mother supported him. He went to the University of Karlsruhe and graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1844.

His bride used her dowry to fund a factory to build gas engines. Using the profits, Benz started building horseless, gas-powered carriages. Over time, he and his wife improved the car and were able to show the public that the car was useful.

He died in 1929 after he merged with a fellow car maker’s company known today as the Daimler Group which is the manufacturer of the Mercedes Benz.

Early Car Designs

There are different elements in the design of a car including exterior design and interior design. Color, trim, and graphic design is other aspects.

  • The exterior design of a vehicle is based on proportions, shape, and surfaces. The designers first do it with a series of manual drawings. Then they add more details to the drawings. They then develop clay or digital models from the drawings and later use them to create a full-size mockup of the final design. They will design the clay models in a computer program and carve them using a machine.
  • The artist who designs the interior of the car develops the placement and surfaces of the instrument panel, seats, door trim panels, headliner, and others. The emphasis of this process is on the ergonomics and comfort. It follows the same procedure as the exterior designing, starting with a sketch, then a digital model and clay model.
  • The color and materials designer does the research, design, and development of both the interior and exterior colors and materials that are going to be used. The paints, fabrics, grains, carpets, wood trims and others are part of it. He combines the contrast, texture, and patterns to give the vehicle a unique interior.

There is also a design team for the graphics such as in the car’s decals, dials, badges, liveries and so on. Today, they use 3D digital surface modeling and rendering to do a real-time evaluation.

Classification of Cars

Another interesting topic to understand in studying when was the car invented is the different classification or types of cars that have emerged through the ages.

  • City Car

    This is a small automobile that’s great to use in urban areas. It has greater speed than micro cars and has a bigger capacity. It’s also safer in a mixed traffic environment and weather conditions. These cars need to meet strict size and engine requirements.

  • Hatchback

    A hatchback is also called a three-door with two entry doors on the side and the hatch on the back. Looking back to when was the car invented, you will learn that in 1961, Renault introduced the Renault 4 which became the world’s first million-selling hatchback.

  • Family Car

    As we look at the timeline of when was the car invented, it’s good to know that in Europe way back, a family car describes a normal size car which is suitable to carry a whole family. They can also be hatchbacks or sedans. There are small family cars and large family cars. Examples of the large family cars are the Ford Mondeo, Opel, Peugeot 508, and Volkswagen Passat among others. Here is a guide to the top 10 cars for families in 2016.

  • Sedan

    The sedan is a passenger car with a three-box configuration. Its purpose is to transport people and their baggage on the road. In British English, they also refer to it as a saloon.

  • Crossover SUV

    This car design is an interesting development on the topic of when was the car invented. It may look similar to an estate car or station wagon. Examples of this are the Chevrolet Equinox and Tata Aria.

There are also the luxury vehicles, sports cars, muscle cars, convertibles and so many others. Following the progress of when was the car invented will lead to interesting inventions throughout the years. Today, some of those cars have been phased out but new ones continue to emerge.

Electric Cars Today

As we’ve learned in the early parts of when was the car invented, electric cars are not really a new concept. It was invented before but just did not pan out because of the mass production of gasoline cars, which made the price of electric cars much more expensive.

Today, they are slowly becoming common. It’s just that consumers have limited knowledge and exposure to electric vehicles.

There is also a model called a hybrid. Plug-in hybrid vehicles can operate on electric power for ten to twenty miles then they can transition into gasoline to extend their range. These are great for those traveling short distances so they will only use electricity.

We have a lot of options when choosing cars today. The history of private transportation and when was the car invented has progressed wonderfully that now, we have more freedom on how we can get from one place to another with our preferences in mind when it comes to safety, comfort, and style.

About Kathleen Burgess

Kathleen started her career in journalism writing about cars during her Journalism degree at CUNY and even though she didn't like it at first, she quickly became an ace, writing news, reviews and comparisons like one of the best car writers out there. Today she writes content focusing on the latest trends in the car industry, looking at sales, policies and green alternatives. Learn more about GCB's Editorial Process.

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