The Earliest of Automobiles

The first legitimate automobile is considered to be the Cugnot Steam Tractor. It is considered an automobile, because the vehicle was able to propel itself on its own.          The innovative three-wheeler, designed in 1769 by Nicholas Joseph Cugnot, the motivation for its creation was the war effort. The French Minister of War, Etienne-François, had wanted a device that could carry heavy artillery equipment or other various odds and ends along the battlefield.

Cugnot and his assistant Brezin already had steam-power technology, so they sought to feature that idea in their design. Placing the boiler on the wooden frame slightly forward of the front, steel-reinforced wheel, its one gear, two-cylinder engine drove the machine to a top speed of about 2.5 mph. It was capable of towing a maximum of five tons (10,000 lbs.), an incredible feat for its time.

A few problems with the design included needing to be reheated and pressurized every fifteen minutes, steering difficulties, and its lack of a braking system.


1769 Cugnot Steam Tractor

Consequently, the first automobile created was also the first automobile to crash. This event caused funds to be pulled from the project in 1771. Others tried to replicate the successes and solve the problems with the design, but were met with even more failures. The car, thought to have been lost to the French Revolution, was found in 1800 and has been preserved by the French since then and now resides in the Musee des Arts et Metiers in Paris.



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