What Was The First Car?
A Quick History of the Automobile for Young People
by William W. Bottorff
Several Italians recorded designs for wind driven vehicles. The first was Guido da Vigevano in 1335. It was a windmill type drive to gears and thus to wheels. Vaturio designed a similar vehicle which was also never built. Later Leonardo da Vinci designed a clockwork driven tricycle with tillersteering and a differential mechanism between the rear wheels.
A Catholic priest named Father Ferdinand Verbiest has been said to have built a steam powered vehicle for the Chinese Emperor Chien Lung in about 1678. There is no information about the vehicle, only the event. Since Thomas Newcomen didn't build his first steam engine until 1712 we can guess that this was possibly a model vehiclepowered by a mechanism like Hero's steam engine, a spinning wheel with jets on the periphery. Newcomen's engine had a cylinder and a piston and was the first of this kind, and it used steam as a condensing agent to form a vacuum and with an overhead walking beam, pull on a rod to lift water. It was an enormous thing and was strictly stationary. The steam was not under pressure, just an open boilerpiped to the cylinder. It used the same vacuum principle that Thomas Savery had patented to lift water directly with the vacuum, which would have limited his pump to less than 32 feet of lift. Newcomen's lift would have only been limited by the length of the rod and the strength of the valve at the bottom. Somehow Newcomen was not able to separate his invention from that of Savery and had to pay forSavery's rights. In 1765 James Watt developed the first pressurized steam engine which proved to be much more efficient and compact that the Newcomen engine.
The first vehicle to move under its own power for which there is a record was designed by Nicholas Joseph Cugnot and constructed by M. Brezin in 1769. A replica of this vehicle is on display at the Conservatoire des Arts et Metiers, inParis. I believe that the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D. C. also has a large (half size ?) scale model. A second unit was built in 1770 which weighed 8000 pounds and had a top speed on 2 miles per hour and on the cobble stone streets of Paris this was probably as fast as anyone wanted to go it. The picture shows the first model on its first drive around Paris were it hit and knocked down a stonewall. It also had a tendency to tip over frontward unless it was counterweighted with a canon in the rear. the purpose of the vehicle was to haul canons around town.
The early steam powered vehicles were so heavy that they were only practical on a perfectly flat surface as strong as iron. A road thus made out of iron rails became the norm for the next hundred and twenty five years. The vehiclesgot bigger and heavier and more powerful and as such they were eventually capable of pulling a train of many cars filled with freight and passengers.
As the picture at the right shows, many attempts were being made in England by the 1830's to develop a practical vehicle that didn't need rails. A series of accidents and propaganda from the established railroads caused a flurry of restrictivelegislation to be passed and the development of the automobile bypassed England. Several commercial vehicles were built but they were more like trains without tracks.
The development of the internal combustion engine had to wait until a fuel was available to combust internally. Gunpowder was tried but didn't work out. Gunpowder carburetors are still hard to find. The first gas really did use gas. Theyused coal gas generated by heating coal in a pressure vessel or boiler. A Frenchman named Etienne Lenoir patented the first practical gas engine in Paris in 1860 and drove a car based on the design from Paris to Joinville in 1862. His one-half horse power engine had a bore of 5 inches and a 24 inch stroke. It was big and heavy and turned 100 rpm. Lenoir died broke in 1900.
Lenoir had a separate...
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