|MadSci Network: Engineering|
Thanks for the question Katie. Cars are one of my favorite subjects so I'm glad you asked about them.
Your question really has two answers; a long one and a short one. First, the short answer.
A lot of people agree that the inventor of the car was Karl Benz. Karl Benz was an engineer and inventor who lived in Germany during the late 1800's and early 1900's. On January 29, 1886 Karl Benz patented the first car. On July 3, 1886 it was first demonstrated for the public in Mannheim, Germany.
Now for the long answer:
For a long time people tried to invent a self propelled vehicle. The oldest commonly known reference to this type of vehicle is in the works of Hero of Alexandria which suggested using steam power to replace horses in 150 B.C. (over 2000 years ago)
Leonardo da Vinci, a famous Italian artist and inventor, drew pictures of automated carriages during the Italian Renaissance (late 1400's A.D.)
A whole lot of people tried to develop ways to make steam powered cars
during the 1700's and 1800's. Here is a list of some of the more important
1769 - The Cugnot Carriage: Built by Nicolas Joseph Cugnot (French)
1825 - The Gurney Steam Coach: Built by Sir Goldsworth Gurney (English)
1878 - La Mancelle: Built by Amedee Bollee (French)
There were a whole lot more steam powered vehicles but these are a good place to start if you want to learn more about steam cars.
Steam powered cars were really big and didn't work very well so some other inventors were trying to come up with a way to power cars using a smaller and more dependable type of engine. In 1860 a Frenchman named Etienne Lenoir invented a thing called the "Internal Combustion Engine." A few years later in 1876 another man named Nikolous Augustus Otto invented a better kind of internal combustion engine in Germany. This kind of engine is very similar in principle to what is used in most cars today.
After the invention of the Internal Combustion Engine it was easier to make a car that was small enough and reliable enough to be practicle. Just like with the steam cars, a lot of people were trying to come up with an internal cumbustion engine car at the same time. The two most important people were Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz. Both of these men patented a car in Germany in 1886 but Karl Benz patented his first so most people say he invented the car.
A few years later, Karl Benz's company and Gottlieb Daimler's company merged and became Daimler-Benz. This is the company that makes the Mercedes-Benz brand of cars. The name Mercedes came from a man who raced and sold Daimler-Benz cars. The man's name was Emil Jellinek. He had a daughter named Mercedes and he decided to name the cars he sold after her. The name became famous and the Daimler-Benz company has continued to use it until today.
Well Katie, I hope this answers your question. If you want to learn more about the history of cars, there are a lot of really good books on the subject. Two of my favorites are:
100 Years of the Automobile, Ruiz, Marco, W.H. Smith Publishers, Inc., 1985
Mercedes-Benz - The First Hundred Years, Langworth, Richard M., Beekman, 1984
For early automotive history on the Web, a good place to start is: http://www.mercedes-benz.com/e/04.htm
Thanks again for the question,
Tim Meinert, Grad student, Industrial Engineering.
Return to the MadSci Network