First internal combustion engine car

July 11, 2018


This question does not have a straightforward answer. The history of the automobile is very rich and dates back to the 15th century when Leonardo da Vinci was creating designs and models for transport vehicles.

There are many different types of automobiles - steam, electric, and gasoline - as well as countless styles. Exactly who invented the automobile is a matter of opinion. If we had to give credit to one inventor, it would probably be Karl Benz from Germany. Many suggest that he created the first true automobile in 1885/1886.

Below is a table of some automobile firsts, compiled from information in Leonard Bruno's book Science and Technology Firsts (Detroit, c1997) and's History of the Automobile






Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot (1725-1804) 1769 STEAM / Built the first self propelled road vehicle (military tractor) for the French army: three wheeled, 2.5 mph. France
Robert Anderson 1832-1839 ELECTRIC / Electric carriage. Scotland
Karl Friedrich Benz (1844-1929) 1885/86 GASOLINE / First true automobile. Gasoline automobile powered by an internal combustion engine: three wheeled, Four cycle, engine and chassis form a single unit. Germany Patent DRP No. 37435
Gottlieb Wilhelm Daimler (1834-1900) and Wilhelm Maybach (1846-1929) 1886 GASOLINE / First four wheeled, four-stroke engine- known as the "Cannstatt-Daimler." Germany
George Baldwin Selden (1846-1922) 1876/95 GASOLINE / Combined internal combustion engine with a carriage: patent no: 549, 160 (1895). Never manufactured - Selden collected royalties. United States
Charles Edgar Duryea (1862-1938) and his brother Frank (1870-1967) 1893 GASOLINE / First successful gas powered car: 4hp, two-stroke motor. The Duryea brothers set up first American car manufacturing company.
Further Reading
  • Bruno, Leonard. Transportation. Science and technology firsts. Detroit, Gale, c1997: 499-534.
  • Burness, Tad. Ultimate auto album: an illustrated history of the automobile. Iola, WI, Krause Publications, c2001. 503 p.
  • Coffey, Frank. America on wheels: the first 100 years: 1896-1996. Los Angeles, General Publishing Group, c1998. 304 p.
  • Eckermann, Erik. World history of the automobile. Warrendale, PA, Society of Automotive Engineers, c2001. 371 p.
  • Georgano, G.N. & Thorkil Ry Andersen, editors. The new encyclopedia of motorcars, 1885 to the present. New York, Dutton, 1982. 688 p.
  • Lafferty, Peter. Top gear: the history of automobiles. New York, F. Watts, c1990. 32 p.

For more print resources...
Search on "automobiles history or "automobile industry and trade" in the Library of Congress Online Catalog.

An early Benz automobile. Photo courtesy of Vintage Web Classic Cars Picture Archive.

Horseless buggy made by Charles and Frank Duryea, 1893. The first practical gasoline automobile built in the United States. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

De Dion motor carriage #2. c1901. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

First automobile on Pa. Avenue, 1896. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Early steam automobile presented to Smithsonian / Underwood & Underwood, Washington, 1928. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Austro Daimler by A.E.N. Paul Neumann (advertisement for Daimler automobiles), 1918. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

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