History of the Automobile, Part 4

By Audrey Robinson

NECCM Education Committee

The week of Nov. 12-18 is National Education Week. The Northeast Classic Car Museum is a great medium to cultivate a student’s interest in history, literature, science, math and technology. The fourth part of this five-part series will show how automobiles evolved from the 1700s through the 1900s.

As early as 1600, the Dutch, no strangers to wind power, had built a wind-powered, sail mounted carriage. These carriages were reported to hold several passengers and move at speeds as high as twenty miles per hour. While the Dutch dreamed in terms of the wind, others were thinking of other means of propulsion. In the 1700s, a vehicle was built that was powered by an engine based on the workings of a clock. What the inventors neglected to calculate, however, was that any clock that was capable of moving a vehicle with passengers would have to outweigh the load it was carrying.

Inventors in England, France, Germany and other countries worked on the idea of a compressed-air engine, but they were unable to find the solution to self-propulsion by this means. However, in their efforts, they contributed significant individual elements to the picture; elements like valves, pistons, cylinders, and connecting rods, and an emerging idea of how each of these elements related to each other. The first invention that can truly and logically be called an “automobile” was a heavy, three-wheeled, steam-driven, clumsy vehicle built in 1769. This mechanism was slow, ponderous, and only moved by fits and starts. In tests, it carried four passengers at a slow pace – a little over two miles per hour – and had to stop every twenty minutes to build a fresh head of steam.

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