For centuries, humans had believed that there would be a way to move quicker and more easily without the use of animals such as horses or donkeys. They knew that mechanics and scientific innovation would lead to the invention of a carriage which was powered by nature and working parts rather than biological life. But it was not until the Late Medieval era that educated individuals began to look more closely at how this dream could be achieved. Leonardo da Vinci was one of these creators, and was possibly the first to design and draw up plans for vehicles such as flying machines and tanks. Despite the sophisticated and potentially viable ideas da Vinci came up with, according to modern research, most of them would not work if they were actually attempted. It was a nice try, however.
Europe was coming to terms with a new concept called “engineering” and would harness its complex power to lead them towards an industrial revolution. This change from a relatively primitive society to an inventive, competitive one would begin in around 1500, the end of the Middle Ages, and was to reach its peak in the 19th century.
In the year 1769, a certain Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot produced a three wheeled military car for the French Army. It was powered by a steam engine and ran off a huge boiler which hung from the platform. Despite its weight and how cumbersome it was, the vehicle proved to be very stable. Unfortunately, Cugnot’s invention was extremely difficult to steer and this disability rendered it fairly useless in a combat situation. Something more versatile, manoeuvrable and fast would have to be created – and it would have to work. It was the dawn of an age of design, with each engineer competing to produce something better than his opponent’s previous models. Therefore, Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot’s steam engine platform would soon be obselete, trampled into the dust.
As the world moved on and many dreamers worked hard on prototypes for machines that they thought would be ground-breaking, a man named Karl Friedrich Benz finished his plans for a car that was not powered by external combustion – rather, the opposite. It was the foundation for the standard car engine we use today. A chamber would hold the fuel mixture and would combine with air to then be compressed. After the flammable solution was confined into a small area, it would be electrically ignited and the explosion would force a metal piston in a loop, driving the wheels. Probably, Benz took the ideas of early inventors who began to use different concepts such as metal mechanics and explosive fuels. Christiaan Huygens is said to be the first to have made an system that utilised charges and pressurised air, which is where Benz’s idea of a cylinder and electric detonation came from. He combined this with the work of Otto von Guericke, who designed the first gas cylinders and connecting rods.
“Karl Benz was born to an engine driver on the 25th of November 1844. Benz and his wife were almost bankrupted when he opened his own company and factory, desperate to produce an internal combustion car that moved without being pulled by a horse.”
Even though Benz used concepts from previous cars, his model was more or less new to the world and he was regarded as crazy for sacrificing all that he had to work on it. There was a difficulty in inventing such a vehicle because most of the work was done by himself, and there was almost no one who he could look to for help and he was hardly able to implement any of his competitors’ features into the car. Due to this, it was down to Benz to make all the crucial decisions – what materials would the different parts be made of? How would he make it as light and quick steering as possible? Would he be able to make it comfortable, affordable and quick? Would it even work?
Of the many people that had great ambitions for a motor carriage, Karl Friedrich Benz only had one main rival which was attempting something relatively similar to him, and that was Gottlieb Daimler. Contrary to Benz, Daimler had already achieved great success with an internal combustion engine connected to a bicycle. Essentially, it was the first motorcycle. He also had financial support. However, Daimler was still working from a shed and it was a desperate effort on both sides to push through the hardships of a topic of engineering in which there was extremely limited reliable information.
In 1885, six years after Benz had made his first petrol engine, the car was tested. The following year, he obtained a patent for a car powered by petrol. It was considerably lightweight, but Benz was broken. After spending the majority of his lifetime on this project, a result had been yielded, but Karl had lost all hope of it ever being life-changing. In fact, it was his wife, who had lived in poverty for many years to serve her husbands work, who truly believed in the creation and knew that it would be a best-seller. Bertha, in 1888, took the motorwagon and commenced her sixty-six mile journey from Mannheim to Pforzheim, relying on donations of cooking oils and standard metal parts to maintain and refuel the carriage. The journey was successful.
And it was so, in 1889, that Benz released the car to public consumers for sale and it showed up at the Paris World Fair, where plans for the Eiffel Tower were also being proposed. Model 3 Motorwagon was a hit. Daimler, on the other hand, finished his automobile at around the same time but sales only began in 1892, and he resigned in 1893 after illness. By 1914 and the start of the First World War, petrol powered cars were popular, but many were still powered by steam. London Buses saw their breakthrough, as well as tanks being introduced at the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
Since 1885, there has been a time of easy and affordable travel. Benz and Daimler’s cars cut the price of automobile’s considerably, but that still did not make it popular for those less wealthy. It was only in the 1960s that those lower down in the social hierarchy began to adopt the car as a main method of transport, and by this time, many new manufacturers of vehicles and companies had sprung up. Mercedes Benz car models appeared in 1926 when the factories of Daimler and Benz cars combined to form the Daimler-Benz brand. And it wasn’t just Germany that invented cars. Some notable nations and brands include Italy, which gave birth to Ferrari in 1947, Britain, which started Aston-Martin in 1913, and France, with Peugeot coming into business very early on the 2nd of April, 1896.
A final point to think about is that engineers were not only trying to produce petrol powered cars. Isaac de Rivaz, for example, has been bestowed the title of “world’s first inventor of an internal combustion engine”, but has often been overlooked. Contrary to Benz and Daimler, his ran on hydrogen gas. 1808 marked the point at which he incorporated it into a working vehicle of his own – nearly eighty years before Benz!
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