The History Of The Automobile
These days, the majority rely on cars as their fundamental means of transport. But, where did the automobile originate from?
Published: Sunday, April 9th 2017
The invention of the wheel has always been cited as the hallmark of human invention. But, who invented it first? Some believe it was the Greek who prompted the invention of the wheel into greater heights by designing lighter 'spoke' wheels (used in Roman arenas), as well as 'teeth-like' gears in aid of propulsion.
The first recorded use of the wheel was actually not even for a means of transport, but rather to be used as a 'pottery wheel' in late Mesopotamia times.
Beasts Of Burden
It all started with the horse, the camel, or the dog - no one can tell which animal the pre-historic human picked first. Once humans discovered the raw untapped energy of a beast that they could tame, domesticate, and use as a means of transporting wood, or other necessities, they needed to move, it was all systems go.
Back then, people tended to stay put and tended to only move about locally. Their means of transportation included dragging sledges and floating items on a river in order to transport them.
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Around 5000 BCE, Native Americans recognised the potential of pairing beast and sledge together to transport goods and were masters of this. This was known as a travois.
The Invention Of The Wheel
Around 3500 BCE, the wheel made its first appearance and would be one of the last great inventions from prehistoric times. A theory is that a group of prehistoric people may have been rolling a heavy load on tree trunks when they realised they could achieve the same effect by chopping the logs into thinner 'spheres', which would make transportation lighter and, as a result, faster.
The first wheels were more square than round and were solid with just a hole in the middle for the axle. This progressed into rounder wheels with separate wooden spokes that made lumbering carts into swift and sleek chariots.
The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all used chariots to expand their empires. They were a bit like horse-drawn tanks.
The Timeline To The First Car Engine
Carts and chariots were a big advance on legs, but they were useless cross-country. In grassy and desert areas, such as the Middle East and the Mediterranean, chariots were developed faster due to the obvious, flatter and smoother terrain. Areas set amongst scrub and forest, such as Europe and Asia, had a more difficult time navigating terrain on carts and chariots.
The Romans decided that the locomotive was only as good as its terrain and decided to develop a network of roads to connect its entire empire. This 'highway' network used cutting-edge technology to create a road with a soft base, to drain excess rain water, and a harder, top base of patchwork and tight-fitting rocks.
The Dark Ages
This great stride in technology and innovation halted, however, at what came to be known as The Dark Ages. While the Greeks had given us gears and the Romans roads, the world was still stuck using horsepower as a means of raw power. Towards the end of the Middle Ages, which preceded the Dark Ages, a Dutchman by the name of Guido von Vigevano, developed sketches of the Windwagen.
The Windwagen was propelled by three parts; an engine made of spinning windmill sails, a set of wheels, and gears to transfer power. Leonardo Da Vinci later sketched designs of a 'clock car', which essentially was a giant clock. It was made to be power using springs that could drive the wheels through a system of interlocking gears. Leonardo's clockwork car sketch never materialised and was never designed for mass-production.
Fast forward to Joseph Etienne Lenoir's invention of the 'sparkplug'. Made by igniting a naked gas flame in a metal tin, which would make the gas explode with a thump of power that was able to push a piston. Lenoir figured if he could repeat this process over and over, he would be able to drive a machine.
The Invention Of Gasoline Engines
Gas-powered engines were not, however, particularly safe. Many were afraid of the engines exploding. Nikolaus August Otto, a self-taught engineer, discovered that gasoline or 'liquid fuel' would be a safer bet. In 1876, he developed a highly efficient gasoline engine.
The engine worked by repeating the same four steps or 'strokes' repeatedly. The rest is history and every car engine has worked the same ever since.
The (Unintentional) 'Publicity' Stunt That Led To The Modern Car
Karl Benz, a german engineer, studied the success of Otto's work and decided to improve on it. He built a simpler engine and fixed a three-wheel carriage to make the world's first practical gas-powered car in 1885.
The problem was, no one took much notice. That was until Benz's adventurous wife, Bertha, decided to 'borrow' the car to set off on a 100km journey with their two young sons to visit her mother. Bertha refueled the car with gasoline bought from drugstores (since gas stations did not exist yet) and, when approaching a hill, her two sons would push the car to navigate the incline.
This brave and intrepid 'test-drive' caught the attention of passersby and, eventually, the public's imagination. It is often said that Karl Benz couldn't have dreamed up a better publicity stunt if he'd tried.
After her successful return, Benz took his wife's advice and added gears for uphill driving. He soon developed a successful four-wheel car and, by the start of the 20th century, became the world's leading car maker.
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