A Weird & Wacky History of the Automobile


The World's First Road Vehicle is BuiltNicolas 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

Although the first power steering system was allegedly installed on an automobile in 1876 by a man named Fitts, not much more is known about the man due to lack of documentation. 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 Fordisms.


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

a 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 Very First T-Bird Rolls

Off the Assembly Line

Ford didn’t wait long to respond to the new Corvette. In fact, production for the 1955 Thunderbird began in September of '54. Ford ended up selling over 16,000 of their cool new car. Over 5,000 names were considered for the new auto in 1954 but in the end, "Thunderbird" made the final cut. (A young Ford car stylist won a $95 suit with an extra pair of trousers from Saks Fifth Avenue for his nomination of the final name.)

Interestingly enough, due largely to the announcement of the Ford Thunderbird, Chevrolet decided that they would produce only700 Corvettes in 19955 (even though initially they were expected to produce 10,000). Inevitably, this decision helped to make the 1955 Corvette one of the most limited and sought-after production sports cars ever.



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

(1 Million Dollars) is Handed Out

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 Passes

Allowing 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.










Toyota's Hovering Car- Toyota is developing a future airborne car. The company has been toying with the idea of flying cars for quite some time now.

Look out, Michael J Fox!




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