The History Of The Automobile


David Schumacher


Just think what would our world be like without the automobile?One would have to ride horses or walk wherever he may go. The automobilehas gone a long way from a toy to a necessity, our world could never existwithout the automobile.

It is difficult to state definite dates for events in theprogress of the automobile. Many men were working on the same problems atthe same time in different countries without knowledge of one another. Theself-propelled vehicle dates back as far as the 18th century. Credit forthe first road wagon or auto propelled by its own engine goes to NicolasCugnot, a Frenchman, who about 1770 built a three wheeled carriage, witha cumbersome steam power plant operating on the single front wheel. It isclaimed that this steam carriage could run at a rate of 2 1/2 miles perhour, but had to stop every 200 feet or so to build up steam. This car canstill be seen in a Paris Museum. During the latter half of the 18th century,a few other attempts were made to build steam carriages, many of which werenot capable of operating on their own power. The next century, however,a number of steam vehicles were put to use in transporting passengers. Amongthe early experimenters were: Oliver Evand, who made a car in 1787 in theUnited States; Trevithck, Englishman who made one in 1801 and Gordon Jones,England 1824; James, U.S. 1829; Gurney, England 1828, and many others. Gurneyput three steam coaches into operation on a route near London covering about3,644 miles. Walter Handcock built the first of nine steam carriages thatwere operated on route regularly.

About 1831, the English Parliament passed laws that almosteliminated steam coaches from the road. Among these laws were the Red FlagLaw, which required a man to walk before the horseless carriage carryinga red flag by day and a red lantern by night. Also, the toll roads and bridgesraised the charges for steam carriages until they could not operate at aprofit. As a result, there was little experimenting or development on thehorseless carriage until 1896, when the restrictions were lifted.

One of the more familiar names connected with the inventionof the automobile in the United States was Henry Ford. History states thatat the age of 18 Henry worked in a small engine shop. He later used thisknowledge at home where he was trying to put steam power to farm use. Hebuilt a steam powered tractor but it had problems with the cooling system.This discouraged him so he gave up on tractors for a while. At this time,there were large steam tractors in use - but Henry was hoping to get intothe picture by building an inexpensive simple engine.

Next, he started experimenting with gasoline engines andthis led to his building a horseless carriage. He built his first car in1893. It had a four horsepower engine mounted over the rear axle. He ranthis car for 1,000 miles and then sold it for $200.00 so he could experimentwith a better one.

In 1899, Henry went into business with Detroit Motor Companydesigning cars. He built several cars only for speed. One was called the"Arrow" and the other the "999." They both had a fourcylinder engine that produced 80 horsepower. The "999" won everyrace it entered, and on this reputation in 1903 Henry established Ford MotorCompany with a capitalization of 100,000 dollars. (It is worth 100 timesthat today).

During the first year, the Company built a two cylinder8 horsepower car with a chain drive, and of these 1,608 were produced andsold. In the second year, it made three models and during the next fiveyears it made various models with 4 and 6 cylinder engines. In those days,a car was a luxury, but Henry Ford swore that he would make a car that everyonecould afford. He did so with his model "T" and then again withthe model "A" He invented the assembly line which made it possibleto produce a large amount of cars at a very low cost.

The 1930 Model "A" five window coupe was oneof his most popular cars. It was built with simplicity and it was stronglight weight and parts were interchangeable. This was Henry's dream, a carthe people could really afford, and one that would run for a long time.

In the United States, the motor car was a great luxuryduring the early 1900's. They were used mainly as a toy by the rich forjaunting through the countryside. These excursions were taken only on sunnydays as the chances of breakdowns were great. At this time the phrase "goinglike 60" had never been heard as the automobile drivers always leftin the dust the more reliable horse and buggy. People scoffed at the ideathat the automobile would someday be the main means of transportation.

It didn't take long for people to realize the horselesscarriage was here to stay and companies were formed to build their own models.Some of the early companies were: Ford and Olds, Haynes, Winton, King, Maxwell,Appersom, Ricker, Clarke, Stanley, White, and Franklin. Few of these companiesstill exist today. Ford and Olds are still big names in the automobile industry.White also exists in the trucking business.

The first automobile bodies were open bodies, consistingof a front and rear seat, each seat being designed to accommodate two persons,and were upholstered in leather. The rear seat was generally entered througha small door in the middle of the back. In 1902, side rear doors were added,displacing the middle back door but there were not yet doors for the frontcompartment. Such doors did not come into use until 1910 - 1912. It wasnot until 1911 that bodies were equipped with windshields as standard equipment.The first windshields were made with wood frames. Cars with tops appearedin 1907. These were merely carriage tops. The folding top, which could belowered or raised came into use in 1910.

The open body, the touring car or roadster, representedpractically the entire automobile production. It was not until 1917 thatmy grandfather, Frand Larson, bought one of these cars. It was describedas a 1917 Model "T" Ford roadster. He used this car in his lineof business which was a meat market in Kennedy, Minnesota. My grandfatherhad one of the first cars in Kennedy. After buying it, Grandpa set aboutchanging it into a delivery wagon or pickup truck. He drove a meat deliveryroute during harvest time that took him all along the farms of the Red RiverValley. He converted this car by building a covered box in the back madeof three layers of canvas and wood to hold cakes of ice. Refrigeration wasunheard of in 1917 and ice boxes kept meat fresh for a very limited time.

Grampa Frank made deliveries two and three times a weekand with an early start it took him most of the day. Grampa possibly hadone of the first door to door delivery trucks in this area. From the periodof World War One (1917 - 1924) he wore out three of these Model "T"Ford Roadsters.

Automobiles have improved since the 17th century in greatnumbers. Our world now would not know what to do without the automobile.The automobile has become the biggest means of transportation. It has gonefrom a luxury to a necessity. Again, I ask you to think about what it wouldbe like without the automobile.




Baldwin, Mark Interview February 4, 1972

Burlingame, Roger. Henry Ford. New York, Alfred A. KnoffInc. c. 1954

Encyclopedia Britannica. Automobiles, Volume II, EncyclopediaBritannica Inc. c. 1970nc. c. 1954

Encyclopedia Britannica. Automobiles, Volume II, EncyclopediaBritannica Inc. c. 1970