(Steam engine noises)
Lots of people tried for hundreds of years
to create self propelled transportation; with each successive attempt building on top of
the previous incarnation. Who invented the first car?... Let’s find
out. This is WheelHouse.
Ferdinand Verbiest was Jesuit missionary hanging out in Peking with the Kangxi Emperor. When
He wasn’t doing astronomy or working on the calendar, he was tinkering in the garage,
inventing gadgets to entertain the emperor. He was basically the first Car Boy. His coolest
invention, by far, was a two foot long cart with a primitive steam engine on board. I
guess technically that made him a CART boy.
(Office noises, sighs)
Dude, CART BOY, that was a good one!
It was basically a plank with five wheels and a boiler that blew steam on a little turbine
that turned the wheels and made the car move. Ferdinand had technically invented an automobile.
BUT it was pretty small so you couldn’t ride it. So it wasn’t really a car.
Early steam engines came to prominence in the 1700s, and it was only a matter of time
before someone built a full size machine that followed the principles of Verbeist’s toy
cart. French inventor Nicolas Cugnot did just that in 1769, with his ‘Fardier a Vapeur’.
And if I mispronounced that, you can sue me because I took Spanish in high school. Shouts
out uhh, wha..what was his name? Mr. Massie, Senor Massie. Atascadero High School, whats
up. Follow your dreams kids.
The gargantuan size came at a cost, the Steam Wagon only had a top speed of 2 and half miles
an hour. The French army, which was funding the project, was kinda disappointed with the
performance. The Fardier was cancelled before it make it to production, but people have
built working recreations of Cugnot’s design and they’re pretty sweet. The front mounted
steam engine looks weird as hell but there’s a visible progression from Ferdinand Verbiest’s
toy cart to Cugnot’s machine almost 100 years later. But like the toy cart, the Fardier
was not a car either.
Steam Technology progressed through the 19th century. In 1801, Richard Trevithick unveiled
his “Puffing Devil”, which wasn’t his bong, but a steam locomotive for the road.
Trevithick was basically illiterate for his entire life but loved working on machines.
The puffing devil was powered by a “strong steam” engine similar to those used on river
boats. This updated design made the engine much smaller but more prone to boiler explosions.
The Devil’s first test run was on Christmas eve when it successfully climbed up a gentle
slope in Cornwall.
A few days later, Trevithick took the Devil out for another drive. But for whatever
reason forgot to put out the fire in the boiler and left the Devil just sitting outside. With
all this heat and steam building up with nowhere left to go, pressure in the tank skyrocketed.
And then...pop. Y’know sometimes you smoke the Puffing Devil, sometimes it smokes you.
All these inventions so far are kind of cars but each one is missing an element that keeps
them from being considered the “first” car by historians. Ferdinand Verbiest’s
toy cart thing laid the groundwork for what the car would be but it was just a toy. Nicolas
Cugnot realized the practical application of self propelled travel but was never able
to mass produce it. And the puffing devil kinda made people think twice about steam
engines- because it exploded.
So what would make the car..a car? Well it has to be big enough to hold passengers, practical
enough that it can replace the hose and wagon, and it has to be reliable enough that it won’t blow up.
Is there any early invention that can do all three? Yeah, a few.
In 1858 Jean Joseph Etienne Lenoir invented the first commercially successful internal
combustion engine. Being an inventor like the rest of these guys, He decided to attach
his engine to a cart. Boom. Car. The Three Wheeled Lenoir Hippomobile, that’s what
he called it, made the 11 mile journey from Paris to Joinville le Pont in three hours,
But because the Hippomobile was basically just an existing horse cart with an engine
attached , historians don’t credit Lenoir with the invention of the automobile. That
honor goes to a guy named Karl Benz.
German Patent Number 37435 was awarded to Karl Benz and his motorized carriage on January
29th, 1886. The Benz Patent Motorwagen was powered by a four stroke motor that Karl had
designed himself. The 943cc motor produced ⅔ of a horsepower at 230 rpm.
If the Benz kinda looks like a tricycle, that’s because Benz was a huge cyclist and even ran
a repair shop before working on the Motorwagen. The tricycle layout made more sense to Benz
over a four wheel carriage because it was less complicated, lighter and easier to steer
Benz worked on his design for years but was hesitant to go into production. Would people
even want the Motorwagen? And How would people know that it was better than a horse? Fortunately
for Karl, his wife would take matters into her own hands.
In the Summer of 1888, Bertha Benz borrowed the Motorwagen when Karl wasn’t looking.
She and her two sons planned to make the 50 mile journey from Mannheim to her mom’s
house in Pforziem before sundown. She left a note on the table and left at dawn. Bertha
had to adjust the carburetor and make other repairs herself, and fueled up at pharmacies
as she went. She and the boys made it to Grandma’s house as the sun went down.
The trip was the one of world’s first automotive marketing stunts, and showed people that the
future would be driven by the automobile. Bertha’s drive was monumental in pushing
both the Benz Motorwagen and the idea of the automobile as we know it onto the world stage.
Without a doubt, the Benz Motorwagen is the first “real” car; both the engine and
chassis were developed to function as one unit. Daimler, Mercedes-Benz’s parent company,
proudly proclaims on their website that they invented the automobile. But the car didn’t
Verbiest, Cugnot, Trevithick, Lenoir and lots of other guys, they didn’t create the first
“real” car; but their contributions were instrumental in helping Benz make his.
And He wouldn’t have succeeded without them.
Thanks for watching WheelHouse, remember to like comment share and subscribe. If you liked
this episode go check out last week’s WheelHouse, it’s about why we drive on the left versus
right. If you want a shirt go to SHOP.DONUT.MEDIA we’ve got shirts and stickers. Thanks :)