The History of Automobiles to 1920

The history of the automobile did not just begin with Henry Ford and the Model T, as you may believe. In fact, Henry Ford is not even regarded as the inventor of the modern automobile. A German engineer, Carl Benz, is generally considered the inventor of modern automobiles, although his invention used engines and other parts invented by numerous others who were working on the concept at the same time. The automobile was not the creation of a single inventor; the path to the modern automobile actually begins centuries ago in theoretical drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci, Isaac Newton, and their contemporaries.

The first vehicles capable of carrying people were actually steam-powered, and in existence by the beginning of the nineteenth century. It is during this era that hand brakes, transmissions, and steering mechanisms, among other automobile components, were developed. Most of these developments came in the UK, but in response to worries about dangerously high speeds, an 1865 act required such vehicles to be preceded by a man on foot with a flag and a horn. This effectively curtailed automobile development there for several decades.

Other automobiles were developed in Russia and the United States during the early nineteenth century, and many of these attempts were electric. The first car to be produced with an internal combustion engine was the 1885 Benz Motorwagen. However, early internal combustion engine efforts were hindered by a lack of suitable fuel mixtures, as gasoline was not yet perfected. Some early internal combustion engines ran on hydrogen fuel. Siegfried Marcus of Austria advanced knowledge in the area of internal combustion engines, and was the first to use gasoline in the early 1880s.

Karl Benz in Mannheim and Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhem Maybach’s team in Stuttgart almost simultaneously built the first practical automobiles using internal combustion engines powered by gasoline. However, it is important to note that there were dozens of other early pioneers in this era, many of whom have been forgotten to the passage of time.

The first automobile to reach production was designed by Karl Benz in 1888. The first American automobile companies were the Duryea Motor Wagon Company, founded in 1893, followed by the Olds Motor Vehicle Company and Cadillac just after the turn of the century. During this time numerous other small companies sprang up around the globe. In the early era of automobile sales, no clear standards existed, so new components were tried on almost every new model. By 1900, the era of mass production had begun. 1905 is the year in which the majority of sales shifted from hobbyist motorists to the everyday driver. The earliest sports car was made in 1910, and was known as the Mercer Raceabout.

The most widely available vintage car model of the early twentieth model was the Ford Model T, which was produced in an impressive run from 1908 to 1927, and followed by the 1927-1931 Ford Model A. The Ford production line led to the ability to mass-produce large quantities of automobiles, with one car off the assembly line every 15 minutes. It is one of the main reasons why cars were able to become part of American life when they did. The Ford Models T and A remain some of the most recognizable vintage cars produced, and they hold a special place in the hearts of many automobile enthusiasts.