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A History of the Automobile

History of the Automobile

For centuries, humans have used different forms of transportation to get from one destination to another. In the ancient world, many dignitaries used litters (also called palanquins, sedan chairs, or kagos, depending on the country) to move around.

These large, portable chairs or beds were either open or surrounded by curtains. Sometimes, the bed or chair was contained in a box with a door to allow the passenger privacy. Two long poles were attached to either side of the chair or bed, and one man would carry one end to transport the passenger between locations.

Likewise, humankind has used animals, boats, and other methods to move from one area to another. As time and science have progressed, so has the kind of transportation humans have used. For example, the coach and buggy was an incredibly popular form of transportation until the design for engine-powered vehicles was perfected.

Today, the most convenient-and perhaps easiest form of transportation is the automobile. But how did this transportation method get its start? How did cars become the glorious, highly sought after vehicles they are today? Below, we go into the history of the automobile so you can understand how your specific car came to be.

The Original Design

In 1335, Italian physician and inventor Guido da Vigevano drew designs for a wind-powered vehicle. According to da Vigevano’s design, the vehicle included a windmill-like component that would turn the gears, and, therefore, the wheels. The idea was that the wind would blow through the mill strongly enough to propel the vehicle forward. Other well-known Italian inventors created a similar design for wind-powered automobiles.

In the late 1400s, Leonardo da Vinci invented a self-propelled cart that scientists and researchers believe to be the original predecessor of today’s automobile. Two symmetric springs powered da Vinci’s cart, and the device also had braking and steering capabilities. Through these features, the cart could move forward or turn at pre-set angles without needing to be pushed or guided.

Today, you can find an exact replica of da Vinci’s self-propelled cart in the Institute and Museum of the History of Science in Florence, Italy.

Alterations and Advancements on the First Design

As time passed and science progressed, many different inventors across the globe took new approaches to the original design of cars. Instead of using springs to power and propel the cart, other inventors found ways to use steam power to move vehicles forward without external guidance or force.

For example, Ferdinand Verbiest built the first steam-operated car for the Chinese Emperor in 1672. While Verbiest’s design was too small to carry a driver, this steam-powered automobile lit the way for further development.

In the late 1700s, Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot created a design for an experimental steam-powered artillery tractor that was large enough to transport drivers, passengers, and cargo. At the time, though, the French deemed his original design impractical-the vehicle only seemed to work well on flat surfaces that were as strong as iron.

A few years later, Great Britain became the focal point for automotive innovation. In 1784, William Murdoch, an employee of the engineering and manufacturing firm Boulton & Watt, successfully built a fully working steam carriage. In 1789, American Oliver Evans received the first patent for the automobile to provide US citizens with this convenient mode of transportation.

In 1860, Etienne Lenoir created and patented the first internal combustion engine in an attempt to make steam- and gas-powered vehicles more practical. This engine used a boiler or similar pressure vessel to heat coal and generate gas. That gas then powered the engine and propelled vehicles forward.

Two years later, Alphonse Beau de Rochas discovered a new way to burn fuel and compress gas in the same cylinder. Nikolaus Otto used these designs for inspiration to develop the Otto cycle, a thermodynamic cycle most commonly found in car engines that deal with the spark ignition piston.

Interestingly, many vehicles from these different eras used roughly carved wooden wheels to support the cars and move them forward.

A New, Successful Design

By the 20th century, inventors and engineers had made the automobile’s design more practical. Engines used petrol (or gasoline) for power, and the vehicles were equipped with more effective braking and steering capabilities. The lightweight features of the engines made automobiles more convenient for the elite social classes and the military.

In the Prewar Era of the 1930s, engineers discovered new ways to make cars even lighter and safer. Instead of leaving the carriage open or simply surrounded by glass, most of the cars were surrounded by a metal frame. Glass was then added to the sides, front, and back of vehicles to allow drivers and passengers to see outside and drive safely.

Over time, automobile manufacturers created new body styles so that the vehicles’ designs would reflect the time period. And as new materials were discovered, the style and design of these vehicles continued to change. Today, if you were to compare your vehicle to one made in the 1950s or earlier, the materials and design would be significantly different.

While many automobile inventors and manufacturers tried to find ways to keep reinventing the car, these vehicles still required routine care to function properly. Likewise, your car must be carefully maintained if you want to keep driving safely and preserve its lifespan. If you need any automotive services, turn to Evans Tire & Service Centers.

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