The car is one of those things we couldn’t possibly live without. Sure, you could take away our smartphones and our tablets, we’d complain but we would still be able to carry on with our lives. Take away our cars, however, and then there would be trouble.
Our cars do everything nowadays, you can make phone calls, compose text messages and some cars have their own wifi hotspots, and it won’t be before long that our cars drive us to our destinations.
So, when did it all start?
In this article, we look at the evolution of the car, from the first ever car to what’s next in the world of Automotive technology.
When was the first car invented?
If we’re going to be really specific, then the first steam powered vehicle was actually created around 1672. It was invented by Ferdinand Verbiest, a member of a Jesuit mission in China. He built a steam-powered vehicle as a toy for the Chinese Emperor. It was too small to be driven, but it is thought that this was the first ever working steam-powered vehicle.
But, if we’re looking at a vehicle that was large enough to transport people and cargo, then this wasn’t until the late 18th century. Nicolas Joseph Cugnot designed a steam-driven artillery tractor in 1770 and 1771. However, it was impractical and wasn’t developed. Instead, it was up to us, the Brits. William Murdoch built a working model of a steam carriage in 1784. And, in 1801, Richard Trevithick was running a full-sized vehicle on the roads of Camborne.
The first automobile patent in the United States was granted to Oliver Evans in 1789.
When was the Locomotive Act introduced?
Shortly after the vehicles started hitting the roads, the technological advancements started. Hand brakes, multi-speed transmissions and better steering were developed.
Some commercially successful vehicles even provided mass transit, until the backlash. This resulted in the United Kingdom Locomotive Act (1865). This required many self-propelled vehicles on public roads to be preceded by a man on foot waving a red flag and blowing a horn.
Unfortunately, this halted development of automobiles and instead attentions were turned to railway locomotives. The law wasn’t repealed until 1896, though they did remove the bit about the red flag in 1876.
When was the first “real” car invented?
Okay, so the cars that existed up until now weren’t really cars. Well, they weren’t proper cars. These didn’t come about until 1873 when a Frenchman built a self-propelled steam road vehicle. This could transport groups of passengers.
The first carriage-sized car that could be used on the existing wagon roads in the United States was a steam-powered vehicle invented by Dr. J.W. Carhart in 1871.
Interestingly, this led the State of Wisconsin to offer a $10,000 award to the first person to produce a substitute for the use of horses and other animals. The condition was that the substitute would have to maintain an average speed of more than 5 miles an hour over a 200-mile course. This was the first ever automobile race between states. Seven vehicles were registered, and only two started to actually compete, and one of those broke down. The winner was from Oshkosh and finished the course in 33 hours and 27 minutes.
When was the first internal combustion engine invented?
A lack of suitable fuels meant that early attempts at making and using an internal combustion engine were hampered. It meant that instead of fuel they had to use gases. Swiss engineer Francois Isaac de Rivaz built an engine powered by internal combustion of a hydrogen and oxygen mixture in 1806.
In 1826, Brit Samuel Brown tested a hydrogen-fuelled internal combustion engine by using it to propel a vehicle up Shooter’s Hill in south-east London.
It wasn’t until 1870 that Siegfried Marcus put a liquid-fuelled internal combustion engine on a handcart. This made him the first man to propel a vehicle using gasoline and was called the “Marcus Car”. He patented a low-voltage ignition system and this design was used for all further engines. You can see his second car, the four-seat “second Marcus car” at the Technical Museum in Vienna.
Interestingly, and tragically, Marcus’ impact on the automotive industry has been all but forgotten. While he was honored in his lifetime, Marcus was of Jewish descent. Therefore, the Nazi propaganda office ordered his work to be destroyed and his name removed from textbooks and public memorials.
Instead, credit went to one Karl Benz. You can read our article on the history of Mercedes-Benz and Karl Benz’s invention here.
One of the first four-wheeled petrol-driven automobiles in Britain as built in Birmingham in 1895 by Frederick William Lanchester. He also patented the disc brake and the first electric starter.
When was the first car manufacturer formed?
The first company that was formed exclusively to build cars was the Panhard et Lavassor in France in 1889. This was followed by Peugeot two years later.
It wasn’t before long that the automobile industry started to take off and by 1903, 30,204 vehicles were produced.
The first American automobile manufacturing company, the Duryea Motor Wagon Company, was founded in 1893. This was followed by the Autocar Company and the Olds Motor Vehicle Company.
The Thomas B. Jeffrey Company developed the world’s second mass-produced automobile, the Rambler. Soon after, Cadillac, Winton and Ford were also mass producing cars.
What happened to the automotive industry after World War One?
This era of the automotive industry is also known as the vintage era. It lasted until the Wall Street Crash in 1929.
It was during this time that closed bodied cars became the norm, as did standardised controls. The development of the combustion engine meant that this was the start of the V8 and V12 engines. Cars produced around this time included the;
The Pre-War era
Another war was right around the corner and this era began with the Great Depression and ended with the end of the Second World War.
This era saw the introduction of the saloon/sedan type body and there was even the start of a boot being introduced. Fully closed bodies began to dominate car sales and headlights were gradually integrated with the body of the car.
Front wheel drive, though it was invented several years earlier, made an appearance and was introduced by Citroen. Notable cars of this period include;
Bugatti Type 57
MG T series
Rolls-Royce Phantom III
What happened to the automotive industry after the Second World War?
There were some big design changes after the Second World War, including the ponton style. This was where running boards were eliminated and fenders were incorporated into the body.
It was also in this period that engine power and vehicle speeds increased, and cars became more design focused. They were also starting to be exported overseas. The Fiat 500 was introduced in Europe and the Volkswagen Beetle proved successful in the United States. After cars started to be exported it became clear that Japan was the big hitter when it came to automobile manufacture and was seeing success with the Toyota Corolla, Corona and the Nissan Sunny and Bluebird.
That said, it was also the time for the muscle car, with the introduction of the Ford Mustang, the Chevrolet Camaro and the Plymouth Barracuda.
However, the 1973 oil crisis hit, damaging the sales of many manufacturers. There were also stricter emissions controls and safety requirements that meant there were some cars that were no longer safe to drive on US roads.
The Automotive Industry and the Modern Era
The modern era, in the automotive industry, is pretty much from 1990 until the present day.
Modern day advancements include front and all-wheel drive as well as the domination of the hatchback, saloon and SUV in today’s market.
There is also the more recent phenomena that is the cross-over vehicle and the rise of pick-up trucks in both the United States and the UK.
Fuel efficiency and emissions are at the forefront of the modern era, with the rise of electric cars and plug-in hybrids rapidly changing the automotive industry.
When was the first electric car invented?
The first electric car was actually invented way back in 1828 by a Hungarian called Anyos Jedlik. He created a tiny model car powered by this electric motor.
In 1834, Thomas Davenport created the first American DC electrical motor and installed this in a small model car, which he then operated on a short circular, electrified track.
But the first real electric car was the Flocken Elektrowagen, created by German inventor Andreas Flocken in 1888. Electric cars were actually quite popular between the late 19th century and early 20th century. This was because electricity was one of the preferred methods for automobile propulsion. However, advancements in the internal combustion engine meant that it slowly overtook them. This, combined with the greater range of gasoline cars, quicker refueling times and the mass production of gasoline meant that the use of electric propulsion declined.
It was effectively removed from the important markets, such as the US, by the 1930s. Imagine what would have happened if we had never advanced the internal combustion engine?
Now, of course, electric cars are expected to be the future.
So that is an overview of the evolution of the car. Thank you for sticking with me, it’s been an adventure. What started from humble beginnings has now become an industry so huge, that no one knows what we would do without it. What’s next for the car? Well, we’re starting to look seriously at driverless cars, and it is predicted that babies born this year will never have to learn how to drive.