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The Bumpy Road of Automobiles

Updated: Apr 8, 2023


Professor Harnett

Automobiles are a way of life, and the history of these machine-powered vehicles goes back 250 years.

In 1769, the first steam-powered automobile capable of human transportation was built by Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot in France.

In 1808, François Isaac de Rivaz designed the first vehicle powered by the de Rivaz engine, an internal combustion engine that was fueled by hydrogen.

In 1870, Siegfried Marcus built the first gasoline powered combustion engine, which he placed on a pushcart, building four progressively more sophisticated combustion-engine cars over a 10 to 15-year span.

The car's second incarnation in 1880 introduced a four-cycle, gasoline-powered engine, an ingenious carburetor design and magneto ignition. He created an additional two models further refining his design with steering, a clutch and a brake.

In 1885, Karl Benz developed what is considered to be the first "production" vehicle as Benz made several other identical copies. The automobile was powered by a single cylinder four-stroke engine.

The Ford Model T was released in 1908. Then, a new culture began to emerge; horrific auto accidents. That summer, 31 people were killed in auto accidents in Detroit alone. The cars were a fire hazard, as gas tanks were located underneath the seats, and their flat glass windshields were known to severely gash anyone ejected from the car in a crash. (Seatbelts were not standard until 50 years later.)

In 1913, the Model T became the first automobile to be mass-produced on a moving assembly line. The automobile had now become affordable. Sporting a front-mounted, 177-cubic-inch (2.9 L) inline four-cylinder engine, producing 20 hp, the 900-pound Model T had a top speed of 45 mph. Back then, that was an absurd speed and the abysmal roads exacerbated the risk.

This led to Congress passing the Federal-Aid Road Act in 1916 to pave roads capable of supporting a new generation of travelers and technology. This spurred additional attention to American roadways including the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1968 – this we benefit from today.

It took years for the transportation infrastructure of highways and byways to support the physics of rubber against road. We all traverse these bumpy roads as we navigate life. It is expected, just keep look ahead and keep going.

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