We tell you the history of the automobile and the causes that led to its creation. Also, what are its characteristics and how it evolved.

automobile history
The automobile is one of the most successful inventions of the human being.

The history of the automobile

The history of the automobile involves the series of events, innovations and scientific-technological knowledge that gave birth to the automobile. These are the events that allowed it to evolve and finally become what is now part of our daily lives.

Called cars, cars or cars, land motor vehicles are one of the most successful inventions of the human being as far as displacement is concerned. Its popularity during its more than two centuries of history has been such that a total number of 1.2 billion cars are estimated to be circulating today.

The word automobile comes from the Greek and Latin, and means the Union of cars (“by itself”) and mobilis (“that moves”)respectively.

See also: Second Industrial Revolution

automobile background

automobile history
Tesla’s work was essential for the appearance of the automobile.

The development of the automobile would not have been possible without the technological and industrial advances that the Industrial Revolution entailed. Among them, for example, the steam engine, whose main developer was the British James Wattand that allowed the invention of trains and, at the same time, the first attempts at automobiles.

Other essential technologies for the appearance of the automobile had to do with electricity. This phenomenon was known since ancient times but generated and used in modern terms since the last quarter of the 19th century, thanks to the research of scientists like GrammeTesla, Sprague, Graham Bell, among others.

Finally, knowledge of fuels was necessaryespecially the internal combustion engine. In the mid-19th century, when oil exploitation began in the world and the energy potential of this fossil substance became known, it was fully developed.

Why was the automobile created?

The car responded to the desire to transport materials or passengers over long distances and also at higher speeds. However, it was not the first human invention that tried to respond to that desire.

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Previously there were carts pulled by robust animals, which is known as “blood traction”. This transport had the drawback of the physical limitations of the animal.

The mechanization brought about by the Industrial Revolution offered an answer: a machine to do that job. One that could be fixed when it breaks down, that can push yourself to the limit and reach enormous speeds, that does not get tired and that can be mass-produced, ready for use. This was the car.

origin of the car

automobile history
The Benz Patent-Motorwagen, from 1885, is considered the first automobile in history.

The invention of the automobile includes different stages that we will see separately, but in strict terms of what we understand today as an automobile (a vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine and with electrical components) it is accepted that the first example in history was developed in Germanyby different engineers independently:

  • Karl Benz designed his first model, called Benz Patent-Motorwagen in Mannheim in 1885. His wife traveled about 80 kilometers to the city of Profzheim in 1888, as a way of demonstrating her husband’s invention, which had already been patented in 1886.
  • Gottlieb Daimler and Willhelm Maybach designed their own car model in 1889, in Stuttgart, independently. However, the Benz machine is considered the formal starting point of the automobile.

steam stage

automobile history
The steam car had the drawback of keeping the boiler hot.

The initial stage in the history of the automobile began with a steam engine. Around 1770, the French inventor Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot created a vehicle that took advantage of the technology of the steam engine, with a vertical two-cylinder engine and 50 liters of displacement.

With his second and improved prototype he managed to reach speeds of 4 kilometers per hour. As ironic as it may seem, with him had the first car accident in historywhen he lost control of the device and collided with a wall.

Cugnot built a third version in 1771, which is still preserved, and served as the inspiration for William Murdoch, who built a similar steam car in 1784and Richard Trevithick, who did the same in 1801. These first vehicles made it possible to invent the handbrake, gears and the steering wheel, but they had the drawback of having to keep their boiler warm.

Petroleum fuel engine

The first trials with the combustion engine were held at the beginning of the 19th century, with relative success. Boats and motor models followed one another from 1807. In 1860 the Belgian Etienne Lenoir successfully drove a vehicle with an internal combustion engine, powered by coal gas.

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Lenoir’s car mixed air and fuel and used an electric ignitionin a two-stroke engine. That first model served Nikolaus Otto in 1876 to build and patent a four-stroke engine.

Based on that second model, Siegfried Marcus created the first “Marcus Car”with a gasoline-based internal combustion engine, equipped with a low-voltage ignition system that he patented in 1883.

The next step was taken by the German Karl Benz with his first automobiles patented in 1886, an event that is considered the formal beginning of the history of the modern automobile. From 1900 the construction of these automobiles was already a common fact in France and the United States. The foundations were laid for the start of the automotive industry.

electric car

automobile history
The electric car was quieter and less heavy than steam engines.

Between 1832 and 1839, Robert Anderson invented the first electric vehicle., which was powered by non-rechargeable electric cells. At the same time, similar devices were circulating, the result of American engineers and others presented at the International Electricity Exhibition in Paris.

It was valued that it was quieter and less heavy than steam engines, but there was no way at that time to solve the dilemma of the gradual discharge of electric cells. However, Camille Jenatzy’s 1889 “bolide” reached a speed of 105 kmph, a record for that time.

Start of the automobile industry

automobile history
Henry Ford created the Model T in 1908.

The first automobile construction companies emerged at the end of the 19th century: the French Panhard et Levassor from 1889 and Peugeot from 1891. Although France was the pioneer in the invention of the automobile, The United States gave the automobile industry its full potentialthanks to the ideas of Henry Ford.

Ford created the “T” modelswhich were produced in large quantities in 1908, thanks to the application of assembly lines, an innovative system that has since been installed in the heart of human industries, the so-called “Fordism”.

Henry Ford, Henry Royce and Ettore Bugatti are considered the innovators of the automotive industry, responsible for its growth, expansion and worldwide fame, in what was called the “golden age” of motorsports.

back then Ford also competed with Oldsmobile and Cadillacwhich later merged into General Motors, founded by William C. Durant in 1908. The Dodge Brothers marked their presence from 1914, and anticipated the birth in 1925 of Chrysler.

Shortly after, in Germany in 1926, the companies Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft of Stuttgart merged, manufacturer of Mercedes, and Benz & Cie, in charge of Benz automobiles. This is how the legendary Mercedes-Benz arose.

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Importance of the competition

One of the aspects that most pushed the automotive industry forward was automobile competition, the sport linked to the automobile. Speed ​​and safety contests started very early, in 1894.

In 1895 the first great automobile race took place., from Paris to Bordeaux and back, between June 11 and 13. The winner was Émile Levassor in a Panhard et Levassor with an average speed of 24.5 kilometers per hour over a course of 1,175 km.

This kind of contests gave enormous visibility to the car and the industry behind itdespite the fact that there was no shortage of accidents that revealed the danger that they also entailed.

future of the automobile

automobile history
The future of the automobile points to clean and renewable energy.

The future of the automobile is uncertain. There doesn’t seem to be a new car model that will drastically replace the existing ones, despite the dreams that we reaped during the 20th century about flying cars and other similar vehicles.

The industry’s crisis is energetic and ecological: burning fossil fuels destroys ecosystems and contributes to climate change in the process. Furthermore, fossil fuels are a non-renewable energy source and will eventually run out. The response from the industry has been timid, but target electric carssuch as those created by Tesla Motors Inc.

Automotive history timeline

  • 1885. Benz invents the first automobile with a combustion engine.
  • 1890. Peugeot type 2 prototype announced.
  • 1893. The Benz Victoria, the first racing car, is marketed.
  • 1898. The first Renault car is built.
  • 1900. The sale of automobiles in France and the United States begins.
  • 1910. The Highland Park factory, in Detroit, USA, of the Ford Motor Company is inaugurated.
  • 1920. The first sedan car appears.
  • 1928. The Plymouth debuts as the mid-priced model car.
  • 1964. Ford conquers the market with its Mustang cars.
  • 1990. Japanese brands flood the western market.
  • 2000. Honda announces the Insight, a gasoline-electric hybrid in the US.


  • “Automobile History” on Wikipedia.
  • “History of the automobile – From yesterday to today” (video) on Córdoba Internacional TV.
  • “Inventions that changed the history of the automobile” in VERY Interesting.
  • “History of the Automobile” in The Encyclopaedia Britannica.
  • “How were cars invented? History of the Automobile” (video) in Technology: Past, Present and Future.

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