100 Greatest Science Inventions of All Time

By Kendall Haven | Go to book overview

Automobile
Year of Invention: 1887

What Is It? A self-propelled vehicle using an internal combustion engine for
power.

Who Invented It? Karl Benz (in Manheim, Germany)


Why Is This Invention One of the 100 Greatest?

Our modern world is built around the automobile. Our roads were constructed for cars and trucks. We drive cars for pleasure. We drive for work. We drive for vacations. We drive to shop. Suburbs exist because we have cars to get us where we want to go. Interstates were created to accommodate cars. The automobile industry has been one of America’s greatest and most powerful industries throughout the twentieth century.


History of the Invention

What Did People Do Before?

Goods were traditionally moved by wagon, by animal (horse, camel, ox, etc.), or by foot. In the late 1700s, steam power arrived. Trains followed shortly thereafter. Bicycles wobbled into existence in 1885. Until the creation of cars, that was all there was for land transportation.

That is not to say that no one had thought of the idea of self-propelled vehicles. Leonardo da Vinci sketched a self-propelled car in the early sixteenth century. Frenchman Nicholas Cugnot built the first steam-powered wagon in 1770. On its second day of use, he crashed the car into a wall of the Paris Arsenal, the first recorded automobile accident.


How Was the Automobile Invented?

Karl Benz was born in 1844, the son of a railroad worker who died when Karl was two. Karl studied engineering but dropped it at the age of 20 to work as a locksmith. As a hobby, he designed “horseless carriages” in his spare time.

In 1875, he began to build an engine for his automobile based on the work of Belgian inventor Etienne Lenoir. Benz discovered that his engine would produce more power if the liquid fuel had time to vaporize and mix with air before it ignited.

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