The History of the Automobile – from the drawing board to the scrap heap

This article is brought to you by AXA van insurance.

Both Leonardo Da Vinci and Sir Isaac Newton have been implicated in the history of the automobile. How apt, then, that two men named John Leonardino and Moses Isaacstein were involved in the first-ever documented traffic jam.  Webster’s New World Dictionary defines the word, ‘automobile,’ as ‘a four-wheeled passenger car with a built-in engine.’ Webster defines a ‘passenger’ as ‘a person travelling in a train, boat, car, etc.’

The Da Vinci plans

Da Vinci’s drawing for the world’s first self-propelled vehicle date back to 1478. This was a tricycle driven by clockwork and incorporating the use of a differential between the two rear wheels. Controlling the direction of travel relied on a tiller. Strictly speaking, his invention did not meet the dictionary definition of an automobile. It had only three wheels and no seats. However, Noah Webster was not born until 300 years later, so whose vote really counts? Haywagons and the rear of a pickup truck don’t have seats, either, but they are both self-powered and carry passengers.

The Da Vinci Plans

The Da Vinci Plans

Sir Isaac’s contribution to the history of the automobile

Sir Isaac Newton was among the first to ponder and propose the use of steam to propel an automobile. In 1860, he constructed a vehicle with a spherical steam boiler and rear-ward pointing jet.

Sir Isaac's contribution to the history of the automobile

Sir Isaac’s contribution to the history of the automobile

Jam yesterday

The world’s first traffic jam was precipitated on lower Third Street in San Francisco in October 1904 by a collision between Leonardino and Isaacstein. A quick search on Google reveals this was the only claim to fame for either of these gentlemen.

The first road traffic accident

Credit for the first motor vehicle accident has been assigned to the French mechanic and engineer, Nicholas Joseph Cugnot (1725-1804). His steam-powered vehicle, built in 1769, was used by the French Army to transport artillery. It had three wheels and careered down the road at the dizzying speed of 2-1/2 miles per hour. It had to stop every ten or fifteen minutes to build up steam power.

Nicholas Joseph Cugnot automobile

Nicholas Joseph Cugnot automobile

Two years later, in 1771, when Cugnot skilfully manoeuvred one of his later steam-powered models into a stone wall. An engraving capturing the incident for posterity may be viewed in ‘The History of the Automobile: The story behind the horseless carriage’.

Cugnot automobile

Cugnot automobile

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