History of Cars

Ancient Phoenician Chariot

Ancient Wheels

"You could probably steer your car with a shape other than a wheel, but it would be a rough ride with square tires. The wheel was invented by [nobody knows] in the year [who can say?] BC. Best guesses of experts put the year at 8,000 BC, and the place in Asia, but what's certain is that this great idea spread like wildfire across Asia, Europe and North Africa. Among others, the Phoenicians seen in this ancient stone carving were using it to great advantage about 3,000 years ago."

Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot's Steam Engine Car

Steam Takes The Lead

"In 1769, the French Revolution is still 20 years away, but there is a revolution happening that is just as significant to world history. Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot is building the first self-propelled mechanical vehicle – something people are calling an “auto mobile” (a term coined by a 14th century Italian painter named Martini). But Grand Prix races are still far in the future, as his steam-powered tricycle (seating four passengers) travels just 3.62 kilometers. Also, it needs to stop every 15 minutes or so to allow steam to build up. For the time being, at least, horses aren't feeling any competition!"

Nicéphore Niépce's Pyréolophore Internal Combustion Engine

Birth of Internal Combustion

"It was France in 1807. None other than Napoleon Bonaparte granted the patent to Nicéphore Niépce (who later went on to virtually invent photography) and his brother Claude. As you may notice from this illustration, it was not exactly what you see when you lift the hood of your car today. Named Pyréolophore, it ran on ""controlled dust explosions"" of moss spores, finely crushed coal dust and resin. But as the diagram shows, the basic principle of controlled explosions powering a piston was established."

Goldsworthy Gurney's Steam Coach

One Wild Steam Ride

"In 1825, British inventor Goldsworthy Gurney built a steam coach that successfully completed a 136 kilometer (85 mile) round-trip journey from London to Bath in ten hours. But, as if to shake a clenched fist at the inevitable future, when the people in Bath saw the infernal contraption they threw stones at it. The vehicle had to be escorted the rest of the way under security."

1890's bicycle advertisement

Inflated Rubber Hits the Road

"It seems we all have a whiny little boy to thank for the smooth rides we enjoy today. In 1887, when Scottish veterinarian John Dunlop’s son complained that his new bike was too uncomfortable to ride on rough roads, he didn't tell him to tough it out. No, he crafted a inflatable inner tube from the rubber and pump available in his animal surgery. Problem solved, tire invented, and soon bicycles were all the rage in the smarter set, as seen here in this advertisement from the 1890's, encouraging everyone to be sure to get a comfortable ride with soft ""saddles"" and pneumatic tires."

Benz Patent Motorwagen

Bertha Benz's Ride

"It was August 5, 1888. Bertha (wife of auto patent holder Karl) Benz was restless. Without permission from her husband or the law (both of which were required for a married woman at that time) she gathered her 13- and 15-year-old sons into the newly constructed Patent Motorwagen automobile like the one shown here, and drove from Mannheim to Pforzheim – a record 194 kilometers (121 miles). Along the way she used her hat pin to clear a clogged carburetor, her garter to insulate a wire, and had a shoemaker nail leather to the brake blocks, inventing the first brake lining. The reason for her ""unauthorized"" ride? She was frustrated with her brilliant husband's lack of self-promotion and simply wanted the world to see his amazing invention."

Ford automobile factory assembly line

Mass Production Game Changer

"Up until 1907, it took about 12.5 worker hours to build a car in Henry Ford’s plant. That all changed the next year with the implementation of Ford's revolutionary assembly line manufacturing process. As the vehicle moved along a conveyor belt, each worker performed one simple operation repeated over and over again using interchangeable parts. By the time of full implementation in 1915, the system had reduced the time it took to build one Ford Model T from over 12 hours to about an hour and a half. And that economy of labor allowed costs to drop, which brought about a revolution of sorts – now even the people who built the cars could afford to buy them!"

Early Oklahoma Oil Refinery

The Great Gasoline Gamble

"William Burton had a theory that subjecting crude oil to extreme heat and pressure would increase the yield of usable gasoline. But the only way to prove that was to try it. One problem: being wrong could mean being dead. Well, as you've probably guessed, it worked! With his patent registered in 1913, Burton doubled the amount of gasoline obtained from crude. Over the next 15 years, his method saved more than a billion gallons of crude oil. Soon refineries like this one in Oklahoma sprung up around the world, and an industry was reborn to make driving cars an even more affordable proposition."

1941 Oldsmobile Sedan

An Automatic Success

"General Motors advertised the first commercially available automatic transmission - called Hydra-Matic Drive - with the claim that it was the ""greatest advance since the self starter."" They originally thought about introducing it with the more prestigious Cadillac, but switched its release to the more affordable 1940 Oldsmobile because this model offered more sales. Drivers loved it. They sold nearly 200,000 Hydra-Matic cars, (like the spiffy 1941 model shown here) before passenger car production was halted due to World War II. In 2009, over 90% of all cars sold had automatic transmissions."

EV-1 electric car

The Electric Car Plays Dead

"In the 1970's, General Motors and Chrysler made significant strides in creating an all-electric car. Unfortunately, even record high (at that time) gas prices couldn't counteract the cost per vehicle … several hundred thousand dollars! Jump ahead to the late 1990's and General Motors decides to try again with the EV-1 pictured here. In spite of positive driver feedback, General Motors recalled all of the vehicles over the next few years and ultimately destroyed them. The reasons for this policy are still controversial. Did the oil companies squash the EV-1? If so, it only worked temporarily. As of today, car companies including Honda, Ford, Mitsubishi, Renault and Tesla offer consumers a wide choice of all-electric vehicles."

first Toyota Prius

Here Comes The Hybrid

"Is the world ready to drive a “hybrid” vehicle? A hybrid combines a conventional internal combustion engine (ICE) propulsion system with an electric propulsion system to get better performance. Toyota took a chance to find the answer to that question. Available exclusively in Japan in 1997, and released worldwide in 2000, the Toyota Prius was the world's first commercially available hybrid vehicle. And the Toyota gamble has paid off. Prius reached one million sold in 2008 and two million sold by 2010, proving that consumers want affordable, alternative fuel vehicles."

traffic jam

Why Is The Traffic Always Bad?

"It’s not a worldwide conspiracy. In 2010 the total number of cars on the road hit the one billion mark. But even if it seems like most of them left home just to get ahead of you, in fact most of the increase is taking place in China. Just the same, enjoy this situation while you can, because futurists predict that by 2050 there will be 4 billion cars out there!"

Hiriko electric car

An Electric Car Future

"Plug in and go! From Spain comes the Hiriko, the commercial version of the CityCar project developed in 2003 by the MIT Media Lab. With seating for two (or, as you can probably see – one large person) and a rechargeable battery pack, the Hiriko has four pivoting wheels that allow it to turn on its own axis. It can also fold in on itself when parked to use less space. It may well be a model for city cars of the future. In 2014, the town of Malmö, Sweden, is looking into the possibility of being the testing ground for the first Hiriko vehicles. Some of the places that have also shown interest include the Galapagos Islands and the cities of Berlin, Barcelona, and San Francisco."

Google self-driving car

Google Drives Itself

"Few of us think we are bad drivers. It makes you wonder where all the crazy drivers come from. Don’t look now, but Google’s Driverless Car Project has about a dozen vehicles on the road at any given time. These cars have driven more than 300,000 accident-free miles (482803 km) of testing. Still, for the time-being, if you see a car on the road that appears to be driving itself, you should probably alert the authorities. But are these ""robot"" cars the wave of the future? Are we really ready to give up control to a computer behind the wheel?"

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