Automobile History

The History of Cars and Engines

Automobile History
Automobile History. Gaetty Images

By definition an automobile or car is a wheeled vehicle that carries its own motor and transports passengers. The automobile as we know it was not invented in a single day by a single inventor. The history of the automobile reflects an evolution that took place worldwide.

It is estimated that over 100,000 patents created the modern automobile. You can point to the many firsts that occurred along the way to producing the modern car; and with that goal in mind, highlighted below are articles, biographies, timelines, and photo galleries related to the history of the automobile and its many inventors.

History of Cars

A multi-part feature on the history of automobiles starting with the first steam, electrical, and gasoline-engine cars. Learn the controversy behind what was the first car in history and the importance of the internal combustion engine. The lives of many famous automotive makers are explored in detail with special pages on the assembly line, the origins of the name automobile, the patent disputes, and more.After reading this article try our fun automobile trivia quiz to test your knowledge.

Biographies - Famous Automobile Makers

The men and women behind the over 100,000 patents that created the modern automobile. Biographies include for example: Karl Benz, the German mechanical engineer who designed and in 1885 built the world's first practical automobile, and Henry Ford, who improved the assembly line for automobile manufacturing and invented a car transmission mechanism, and others.

Pictorial Timeline of Automobiles

Timeline and photo gallery of automobile history.
Was the first car the 1769 self-propelled road vehicle invented by French engineer and mechanic, Nicolas Joseph Cugnot?

History of American Roads

Just over a century ago, steamships, canals, railroads, and the telegraph were up and running. They were the technological marvels of the 19th century, setting the stage for the 20th century.
Yet the invention that would spark a revolution in transportation was a simple two-wheeler - the bicycle. Its popularity in the 1880s and 1890s spurred interest in the nation's roads. However, it was the car that was destined to dominate the new roads.

Continue > History of Individual Automobile Accessories & Parts

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Air Bags

Airbags are a type of automobile safety restraint like seatbelts.

Air Conditioning in Cars

The first car with an actual refrigeration system was the 1940 model year Packard.

Bendix Drive or Starter Drive

In 1910, Vincent Bendix patented the Bendix drive for electric starters, an improvement to the hand cranked starters of the time.


In 1901, British inventor Frederick William Lanchester patented disc brakes.

Car Radio

In 1929, American Paul Galvin, the head of Galvin Manufacturing Corporation, invented the first car radio. The first car radios were not available from carmakers. Consumers had to purchase the radios separately. Galvin coined the name "Motorola" for the company's new products combining the idea of motion and radio.

Crash Test Dummies

The first crash test dummy was the Sierra Sam created in 1949.

Cruise Control

Ralph Teetor, a prolific (and blind) inventor, invented cruise control.


Differentials are a variety of gearbox.


In 1898, Louis Renault invented the first driveshaft.

Electric Windows

Daimler introduced electric windows in cars in 1948.


In 1901, Frederick Simms invented the first car fender. Similar to the railway engine buffers of the period.

Fuel Injection

The first electronic fuel injection system for cars was invented in 1966 in Britain.


The numerous processes and agents needed to improve the quality of gasoline making it a better commodity.


Canadian Thomas Ahearn invented the first electric car heater in 1890.


Charles Kettering was the inventor of the first electrical starter motor ignition system.

Internal-Combustion Engine

An internal combustion engine is any engine that uses the explosive combustion of fuel to push a piston within a cylinder

License Plates

On April 25, 1901 the state of New York became the first state to require car license plates by law. The very first license plates were called number plates - first issued in 1893 in France by the police.

Spark Plug

Oliver Lodge invented the electric spark ignition (the Lodge Igniter) for the internal combustion engine.


Eugene Houdry invented the catalytic muffler


An odometer records the distance that a vehicle travels. A

Seat Belts/Safety Belts

The first U.S. patent for automobile seat beats was issued to Edward J. Claghorn of New York, New York on February 10, 1885.


Ferdinand Porsche invented the first supercharged Mercedes-Benz SS & SSK sports cars in Stuttgart, Germany in 1923.

Third Brake Light

In 1974, psychologist John Voevodsky invented the third brake light, a brake light that is mounted in the base of rear windshields. When drivers press their brakes, a triangle of light will warn following drivers to slow down.


Charles Goodyear invented vulcanized rubber in 1844 that was later used for the first tires


In 1832, W. H. James invented a rudimentary three-speed transmission. Panhard and Levassor are credited with the invention of the modern transmission - installed in their 1895 Panhard. On April 28, 1908, Leonard Dyer obtained one of the earliest patents for an automobile transmission.

Turn Signals

Buick introduced the first electric turn signals in 1938.

Power Steering

Francis W. Davis invented power steering. In the 1920s, Davis was the chief engineer of the truck division of the Pierce Arrow Motor Car Company, and he saw first hand how hard it was to steer heavy vehicles. Davis quit his job and rented a small engineering shop in Waltham, MA. He developed a hydraulic power steering system that led to power steering. Power steering became commercially available by 1951.

Windshield Wipers

Prior to the manufacture of Henry Ford's Model A, Mary Anderson was granted her first patent for a window cleaning device in November of 1903.