FUN, FACTS & DISPUTES
A Weird & Wacky
History of the Automobile
The World's First Road Vehicle is Built Nicolas Cugnot
Nicolas Cugnot, a French military engineer develops a steam powered road-vehicle for the French army to haul heavy cannons.
The First Auto Patent is Awarded
Oliver Evans receives the very first U.S. patent for an "automobile". However, the car that Evans proposed was amphibious and could travel on land with wheels or water with a paddle wheel.
First Financial Award Offered by a State to Produce a Mode of Transportation that Would Replace the Horse
The State of Wisconsin makes a public offer (a $10,000 award) to the first person (or business) that would produce a realistic substitute for the use of horses for transportation reasons. The main stipulation – the vehicle would have to maintain an average speed of more than five miles per hour over a 200 mile course.
The First True Gasoline Powered Automobile is Made
Carl Friedrich Benz is credited as creator of the very first vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine. This three wheeled, four-cycle invention was unlike anything before it.
The First American Auto is Built (Maybe)
While many historians stand solid that Oliver Evans built the first American auto in 1805 (an amphibious vehicle that could travel on solid ground as well as water) other historians argue that America’s first “real car” was made by the Duryea Motor Wagon Company (Massachusetts) in 1893. Frank (and brother) Charles Duryea founded the company and built a one-cylinder gasoline engined, 4-wheel, open air car. A bit more true to what we know an automobile to be today.
Not only has the debate regarding Evans and the Duryea brothers continued for years, but interestingly enough, even Frank and Charles Duryea argued which of the two of them built the first U.S. automobile.
The First Traffic Fatality
The world’s first road traffic death involving a motor vehicle occurs in Britain in August of 1869 when Bridget Driscoll, 44, takes a trip to the south-east side of London to attend a Catholic League of the Cross festival. Arthur Edsall's imported Roger-Benz is part of a motoring exhibition at the festival. According to witnesses, Edsall’s car was being operated at a 'tremendous pace' (as if it were a fire engine). Edsall stated that he was doing 4 mph when he rang his bell and shouted at Driscoll to get out of the way. Unfortunately, she was stunned by the velocity of this oncoming machine and was hit by the speeding auto. It is certainly possible that Edsall may have been traveling at a higher speed than he claimed because the car's maximum speed was 8 mph, as it had been deliberately limited.
The First Traffic Ticket is Handed Out
The first speeding infraction in the U.S. was committed by a New York City taxi driver (Jacob German) who drove for the Electric Vehicle Company, which leased its electric taxicabs around New York City. German was driving the car at a blistering 12 miles per hour down Lexington Street in Manhattan. The speed limit at the time was 8 mph on straight-a-ways and 4 mph when turning. A police officer on a bicycle observed the 26 year old speeding and sped up just a bit to catch the maniac that was driving out of control. He reprimanded German for his reckless behavior and led him off to jail where he was imprisoned for endangering the public.
The First Power Steering System is Produced
It was in 1900 that Pittsburgh’s Robert E. Twyford included a mechanical power steering mechanism as part of his U.S. patent (issued in 1900) for the first four-wheel drive system. It was not until the 1960’s that power steering became standard on American vehicles.
The Telescope Shock Absorber is Developed
C.L. Hook designs the “telescope" shock absorber, making for a much smoother, more comfortable ride. Telescope shock absorbers are still used today – over one hundred years later!
Ford Motor Company is Formed
The Ford Motor Company is founded by Henry Ford and incorporated on June 16, 1903. Ford is the automotive company that later introduces processes that enable major manufacturing of cars. By 1914, Ford’s methods became so popular that they were referred to as Fordism
The Model T is Introduced
Henry Ford introduces the car that will set the standard for years of automotive manufacturing and design – the Model T. In its first year of production, over 10,000 Model T’s were manufactured.
The Electric Starter is Invented
Charles Kettering revolutionizes the industry with the electric starter. Up until his invention, all engines were started by hand cranking. The first electric starter was installed in 1912 Cadillacs.
First Automobile Moving Assembly Line is Created
Ford Motor Company announces the very first assembly line for autos, delivering cars and parts to the workers, rather than having them run all over the factory to complete their duties. The Ford plant (in Highland Park, Michigan) produced an amazing 300,000 cars the very next year. This innovative process also allowed Ford to drop the prices of their Model T’s, making them more affordable for the everyday consumer.
The First Automobile Made Entirely of Steel is Produced
Dodge introduces the very first auto made entirely of steel. Interesting auto factoid: In 1914, an amazing 146 new makes went into production. Only one survives to this day: Dodge. The first Dodge was produced in November 1914, costing consumers a whopping $785.
The First Electric Traffic Signal is Installed
The world’s first electric traffic signal is installed in Cleveland, Ohio (on the corner of Euclid Avenue and East 105th Streets).
There have been several other people and companies that claim to have invented or to have installed the world’s first traffic signal, including a gentleman in London, who in 1868, allegedly installed a device which featured two semaphore arms that extended horizontally to signal “stop” and at a 45-degree angle to signal “caution.”
In 1912, a Salt Lake City police officer mounted a handmade wooden box with colored lights (both red and green) on a pole with the wires attached to overhead trolley and light wires. While yet another claim comes from the inventor, Garrett Morgan, who in 1923 patented a traffic signal based on a T-shaped design which was later sold to General Electric.
The First Car Radios Are Introduced
Chevrolet introduces a radio… that can actually be installed in your car! The cost to consumers – a whopping $200. There were a couple of little downfalls with this first radio however. The antenna covered the car’s entire roof, the batteries to power it could hardly fit under the front seat and it came with two enormous speakers (that had to be located behind the seat). Not exactly a compact disc player. Within a few years, the Galvin Corporation introduced the Motorola 5T71. It was much smaller, more convenient and could be installed in most of the autos manufactured at that time. Plus the 5T71 was much more affordable – it sold for just $110.
The First Turn Signals Appear on Cars
In 1907 Percy Douglas-Hamilton applied for a patent for a device that indicated the intended movement of a vehicle. Seven years later, silent film star, Florence Lawrence designed a mechanical signaling arm, but unfortunately for her, she did not file for a patent. Lawrence also designed the first mechanical brake and her mother designed and patented the first automatic windshield wipers.
With all of that said, credit for the first turn signal to appear on cars is most often attributed to Edgar A. Walz, Jr. Walz secured a patent for his device and later tried to market it to the auto industry. His patent expired fourteen years later.
The First Coin Operated Parking Meter is Installed
The world’s first parking meter, known as Park-O-Meter No. 1, was installed in Oklahoma City. The Park-O-Meter was invented by Carl C. Magee, who had moved to Oklahoma City from New Mexico in 1927. We would not be surprised to learn that citizens of Oklahoma City may have helped Magee move out of their fine city shortly after installation of the Park-O-Meters.
First Volkswagen is Made…
by the Order of Adolph Hitler
The German government, under the control of Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party, forms a new automobile company; Gesellschaft zur Vorbereitung des Deutschen Volkswagens mbH. Later, the company is renamed Volkswagenwerk, meaning the People’s Car Company.”
The sketch in the background has survived nearly 100 years of weather and war and was allegedly sketched by Hitler himself.
Air Conditioning Becomes an Optional Feature for Autos
Nash Motor Company produces the very first car with built-in air conditioning. Considering that most homes still do not have air conditioning, the public is understandably mesmerized by this new feature.
The First Patent for Cruise Control is Awarded – to a Blind Man
Ralph Teetor was the creative inventor who invented cruise control. What makes his invention even more incredible is that he just happened to be blind.
Teetor became inspired by the idea while riding along with his attorney one day. As his attorney talked he slowed down, each time he listened he sped up. It was this annoying motion that inspired Teetor to invent a speed control device. After tinkering around in an attempt to make this device a reality, Teetor received his first patent on his new invention. It was finally used commercially when Chrysler introduced it in 1958.
The Airbag is Invented
John Hetrick invents the very first airbag. One year later it is patented and soon it is being installed in select autos. Chrysler would make them standard in 1988. Today the law requires all new cars to have at least front airbags.
The First Porsche Sedan is Built… for Studebaker!?
Surprisingly, Porsche's first four-door wasn't the Panamera. In fact, it wasn’t designed to be a Porsche at all. Instead, Porsche built a prototype sedan for South Bend, Indiana’s Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Company in 1952. They named it the Type 542. The problem was the car was simply too bizarre for production. A Studebaker Porsche… now that is WEIRD!
The Very First Corvette Rolls Off the Assembly Line
It was a beautiful June day when the first Chevrolet Corvette rolled off of the assembly line in Flint, Michigan. This sporty two-seater was designed as a low-cost auto that could compete with Europe’s MG’s, Jaguars and Ferraris. The first Corvette off the line was hand assembled, sported a Polo White exterior and Oxblood Red interior, a two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission, a wraparound windshield and whitewall tires. It also had detachable plastic curtains instead of side windows. 300 of these gorgeous little cars were produced in '53 with a price tag of $3,490!
The Detroit News announced the new car with a headline that read “Plastic Corvette Begins To Roll”. The Corvette has become one of the most adored cars of all time.
The Telescope Shock Absorber is Developed
C.L. Hook designs the “telescope" shock absorber, making for a much smoother, more comfortable ride. Telescope shock absorbers are still used today – nearly 7 decades years later!
The Three-Point Seat Belt is Invented
In 1958 Volvo’s first safety engineer, Nils Bohlin, developed what is likely the number one safety device in automotive history – the three-point safety belt. This single invention is credited with saving more than a million lives. Bohlin’s design was initially introduced in the Nordic market in 1959.
This revolutionary, innovative product could have garnered Volvo a massive fortune. Instead, Volvo generously shared the rights to the patent with other auto manufacturers, stating that the design was too important to keep to themselves, because they were confident it could save countless lives (which apparently mattered more to them than the profits).
Unfortunately, we don’t see much of that corporate integrity or generosity today.
The World’s Most Famous Car is Produced
The 1964 Aston Martin DB5 is considered by many car experts to be the most famous car of all time. This fancy car with all of its fancy gadgets and special effect toys was driven by Sean Connery, as agent 007, in both the Goldfinger and Thunderball movies. One of the few Astons used in the making of those two movies recently sold for over $4.5 million. The only question remaining is: what about the Batmobile?
The First Antilock Braking System is Installed
Mercedes-Benz is the first to install ABS on their production models. There were, however, some electronic braking systems dating back into the 1960’s that didn't make it into production.
The First Navigation System is Offered to Consumers
There is some debate over who actually debuted this cool little device, but Honda claims the very first installed navigation system in their 1990 Acura Legend.
The First American Auto Manufacturer Offers Stability Control
Cadillac becomes the first American carmaker to deliver automatic stability control to consumers. This system became a key factor in increasing safety in emergency situations.
The First Hybrid Hits the Auto Market
Obviously, electric cars go back to the dawn of the automotive industry. However, in the year 2000, Honda claimed the record for the very first mass-produced hybrid, with their Insight model.
Google Introduces Their New Pet Project –
the Driverless Car
Google executives begin a new project with the intention to revolutionize the auto industry – that’s right, the self driving car. They promise that the project will come to fruition sooner than later and in fact the technology should be available by the year 2020.
The Tata Nano Becomes Available For Purchase in India
The Tata Nano is a four seater car that gets 73 miles per gallon of fuel. The price tag was an unbelievable $2,400. That is worthy of our list.
China Officially becomes the World’s Leader in Auto Manufacturing
China is the world’s leading car manufacturer, with more production than the United States, Japan or all of Europe. I guess we can expect to see more of those little “made in China” stickers.
The Most Expensive Speeding Ticket...
Over 1 Million Dollars
A speeding Swedish driver earns the dubious world record for the most expensive traffic ticket, after he fled police in a high speed chase. The 37-year old driver was clocked at 180 mph, but police stated that he escaped being clocked by several speed cameras because he was going faster than the instruments could record. He was finally clocked by a new generation of radar machines. Cost of the infraction: approximately 650 euro which converts to over $1,000,000 U.S. at the time (yes that’s 1 million dollars)! Why so high? In Switzerland the level of fine is based on the lawbreaker's personal income.
The First Legislation PassesAllowing Driverless Cars in the U.S.
Nevada is the first American state to pass legislation permitting the operation of autonomous or driverless cars. Since that time, several other states have passed similar legislation.
The First License is Issued for an Autonomous Car
It didn’t take long after Nevada became the first state to make it legal to operate driverless cars in their state that they also issued the very first license for a driverless car.
The World’s Fastest Car Sets New Record
The Buggati Veyron Super Sport sets a new record as the fastest street-legal production car in the world. With a top speed of 267.7 mph the car flies compared to other street-legal production cars.
Interestingly enough, the Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse model is the fastest roadster in the world, reaching an average top speed of 254.04 mph.
The World’s Record is Set for the Most Expensive Car Sold at Auction
A 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO Berlinetta is sold in Carmel, California for $38,115,000. That’s the price of a really nice corporate jet!
A New Record is Set for the World’s Fastest Car
A Hennessey Venom GT exceeded 270.49 mph, the fastest recorded time set by a street-legal car – ever. Unfortunately, due to the fact that the run was in one direction only (and only 16 of them were actually sold) it did not qualify for the Guinness Book of Records as the world's fastest production car. Who cares.
Google Tests a Driverless Car
Google takes the driverless car to the next level as they begin cruising the streets of Mountain View, California with their cool, new prototypes. This interesting new car is a two-door pod-shaped vehicle that Google built from scratch. Before long, you won't have to worry about traffic violations.