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It has enabled men to quickly travel from one end of the country to the other. It gave mobility to the military and it has saved countless lives. Today almost everyone owns at least one. It is a modern marvel, which has made the world smaller. What is this marvel that people need and take for granted? It is the automobile. The car is a tool for getting from one place to another in the shortest possible time.

The invention of the internal combustion engine in 1878, which used gasoline, made the car a more practical means of transportation. The automobile is not a modern invention as many people think; because, the early cars were steam powered.

The use of steam power has been around for centuries, but the steam devices then, were mere toys. It would not be until the 1600's; when an attempt to harness the power of steam began. Ferdinand Verbiest made a model steam carriage in 1678, which moved by using a principle that suggested the modern turbine. In the 17th century the great Dutch physicist, Christiaan Huygens built an engine that worked by air pressure developed by exploding a powder charge. About 1750, the French inventor Jacques de Vaucanson demonstrated a carriage propelled by a large clockwork engine. By the 1760's, the steam engine had developed to the point where motorized land transport became possible.

To help the French army move it's artillery pieces in and around the city of Paris; Nicolas Joseph Cugnot, built the first automobile in history in 1769. Cugnot's invention: a three wheeled; steam driven tractor, is the first automobile in history. In 1770, he built an improved version of his tractor. This tractor was involved in the first automobile accident in history. In 1771, lacking brakes, the tractor demolished a wall when it ran into it.

England

In 1786, William Murdock built a three-wheeled steam driven wagon. He ran a model steam carriage on the roads of Cornwall in 1784.

Robert Fourness showed a working three-cylinder tractor in 1788.

Richard Trevick improved upon Murdock's ideas, and produced several steam carriages in the early 1800's. One of Trevick's carriages had driving wheel 10 feet in diameter. Trevick was the first to use a steam carriage on a railway; in 1803 he built a steam locomotive that in February 1804 made a successful run on a horse car route in Wales. Steam-driven carriages built and operated by Goldsworthy Gurney and by Walter Hancock, transported passengers in the London area during early 1800's.

America

In America, Maryland granted Oliver Evans a patent for an automobile in 1787. In 1805, Evans built the first steam-powered vehicle. His machine was a combination dredge and flatboat that operated on land and water.

In 1867, Richard Dudgeon's road machine, that resembled a tractor, could carry ten passengers.

Internet Resources

The First Steam Carriage 
From the Steam Library, you can read about Cugnot's artillery towing machine and other important early vehicles. This article is from the History of the First Locomotives in America.

Why is it called 'An Automobile'? 
From the Muscle Car Club website, read this humorous article about why we call the car an automobile instead of something else like oruktor amphibolos or Martini for that matter.

Nicolas Joseph Cugnot 
This Web site has some information about Cugnot, it is in French.

Related Information on 18th Century History

18th Century Transportation
Before the car was a viable option of transportation, people had to rely upon other means to get from one place to another. Learn about these other means of transport from your editor.

The Industrial Revolution 
The industrial revolution made it possible for mass production and without these advances, the car would not have been possible. Learn about the beginnings of this important event in history.