Mar 30 2009

Who invented the automobile?

In his February 24, 2009 speech to Congress, President Obama stated;"I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it." Did the United States really invent the automobile? If not us, who did? Here's the results of my research.

First stop is, the Anneberg political fact check website. Here's their evaluation of President Obama's automobile comment:

There is some debate about exactly who invented the automobile, but the inventor's nationality was French, German or Scottish, depending on whether one considers steam or electric vehicles to qualify as an "automobile," or only those powered by gasoline. The Library of Congress’ “Everyday Mysteries” site gives the honor to Karl Benz from Germany, who invented a three-wheeled, gasoline automobile with an internal combustion engine in 1885-1886. Before that, France’s Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot invented a steam-powered vehicle for the French army in 1769, and Robert Anderson of Scotland built an electric carriage around 1832-1839. Germans Gottlieb Wilhelm Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach developed a four-wheeled gas-powered vehicle in 1886. Obama would have been correct had he said the U.S. is the nation that invented mass production of the automobile. It was the 1901 Curved Dash Oldsmobile that was first produced in quantity, and, of course, Henry Ford made the car affordable for the masses with the first moving assembly line in 1913.

Indeed, the Library of Congress is very direct in answering the question of who invented the automobile:

There are many different types of automobiles - steam, electric, and gasoline - as well as countless styles. Exactly who invented the automobile is a matter of opinion. If we had to give credit to one inventor, it would probably be Karl Benz from Germany. Many suggest that he created the first true automobile in 1885/1886.

Based on the Library of Congress chart and the date of the German patent, it appears that Karl Benz of Germany invented the automobile. The Benz Patent Motorwagon can be seen in action in this Discovery Channel video.


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