Monday, March 3, 2008

History of First Cars

One of the first old cars

Lambert and Duryea are not your average household names. But most likely you’ve heard the names Ford and Benz (as in Mercedes-Benz). All of these names are related to one of the most important inventions of all time, the automobile.

Though Henry Ford is well known in American history for making the automobile affordable to the average person in the early 1900’s, he was not the first producer of the automobile. By 1860, the gasoline engine had been invented in Europe and in 1885, Karl Benz had introduced the first gasoline powered automobile. His car ran on 3 wheels and looked like a very big tricycle that had no pedals and could hold two people. In America, the first gasoline-powered auto to grace the rough horse and buggy roads was in 1891. The man to build this car was John W. Lambert. When one man saw this contraption coming down the road for the first time, he thought to himself “where in heaven’s name is the horse?”

The idea of the “horseless carriage” caught on quickly. By 1893, two brothers, Charles and Frank Duryea built their own gasoline powered car. It had a one-cylinder engine with a three-speed transmission. The first run of their car went about 7.5 miles per hour and they were able to get it to go 200 feet until a mound of dirt in the road got in its way and stopped it! This was a far cry from the distance that Benz was able to get his car to go (about 65 miles).

The Duryea brothers did not give up. In fact, they considered their 200 feet ride a huge success. Frank Duryea built the next car by himself. After two years of fine-tuning the car, the Duryea brothers gathered enough interest from investors to start the Duryea Motor Wagon Company. In 1896, they built 13 almost identical models of the Duryea Motor Wagon. Although this sounds like a very small number of cars to produce, it was actually a significant number because it was the first time anyone ever tried to mass produce automobiles. Unfortunately, this mass production company didn’t last long. At a cost of $1,000 to $2,000 a car, the average American couldn’t afford a Duryea Motor Wagon. After 13 were built, the brothers sold their company.

The Duryea brothers paved the way for men like Henry Ford to mass produce and sell automobiles at a price that everyone could afford. Let’s give them the credit they deserve for a job well done!

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