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When posed with the question of who actually invented the first automobile, one would indeed struggle for an appropriate answer as one needs to first ascertain the true definition of automobile, or the type of automobile being referred to.

With close to 100,000 car-related patents having been registered, it would not be practically possible to attribute the invention of the first automobile to any single person.
Meanwhile, at just about the same era, from the late 1700’s, engineers in Europe began concocting various innovations with vehicles powered by steam, combustion and electrical motors.
However, it was in 1769 that a certain French engineer who worked with the military, who has been widely accepted as the person who invented the first automobile that operated on steam. Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot Early French Automobilebuilt a steam-powered tricycle for towing artillery which had the capacity and power to accommodate four passengers at 2.25 miles per hour for 15 minutes. Because of its slow walking pace, this automobile was deemed impractical and eventually abandoned.

While there was much enthusiasm and popularity with the electric car, there was however no sustainable battery in existence at that time that would propel the car with much speed or over a long distance.  Hence, the electric car did not last beyond the 1910’s.

Although the steam-powered  automobile lasted into the 1920’s, various factors contributed to its lack of popularity. The price of steam powered engines and the potential risk of a boiler explosion eventually kept the steam engine out of contention.

It was indeed the combustion engine that finally beat out the competition, with both  steam or electrical power being rejected outright from the start.

It was just a matter of time before the first gasoline-powered car was patented and it was a German by the name of Karl Benz who gets the credit for inventing the automobile because it was practical, powered by  gasoline cum internal combustion and worked like present day cars.

In 1926, Karl Benz entered into agreement to merge his company Benz & Cie. with another manufacturer, Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft, with the merged entity to be known as Daimler-Benz AG (Aktiengesellschaft) which would produce automobiles with the brand name of “Mercedes-Benz”,  which were designed and built by Wilhelm Maybach.

Model T Image

The 1908 Model T. Two forward gears, a 20 horsepower engine and no driver doors. They sold like hot cakes

Meanwhile, over in America, the automobile industry took a massive upturn in production when a certain Henry Ford, who although did not invent the automobile, designed mass-production innovations through the concept and application of assembly lines to produce affordable cars for the ordinary American. The first to roll off was his legendary Ford Model T, also known as the Tin Lizzy, in 1908.Subsequently, by the 1920s, three giants emerged in the auto industry viz. Ford, General Motors and Chrysler.After World War II, Europe and Japan surged full steam ahead in automobile production to meet soaring demand. By 1980, Japan, the Land of the Rising Sun, had indeed risen to emerge as the leading automaker.


The exponential increase in automobile production after WW2 saw economies reach unprecedented heights, injecting vast opportunities in employment.In America alone, 20% of all American steel went into the industry, as did 80% of all rubber, 75% of all plate glass and 65% of all leather, to name just a few.Yearly consumption of petrol reached 7 billion gallons, and the freedom of travel saw garages, motels, restaurants and the like, spruce up along strategic routes. All these employed people who were paid salaries.Automobiles were hitting the road at a much faster pace than creating adequate roads themselves.The general expectation, after the war, was that good life was to finally arrive. Soldiers returning from war wanted to start and build new lives by owning homes and cars. The confidence and demand soared to unimaginable levels, so much so that leading automobile manufacturers went full steam ahead to meet such demand.Advertising became essential and competition emerged which added positivity to the general economy.

  • The Origin Of Number Plates

With the eccentric pace of the automobile boom, various legislations by state authorities were put into force to have firm control, inventory and identification of automobile ownership and to provide liability mitigation in the event of fatality and damage as a result of accidents, and also to cover against automobile theft.

  • A resident of Dayton, Ohio, by the name of Gilbert J. Loomis is reported to have purchased the first ever automobile insurance policy in 1897. This policy, underwritten by Travelers Insurance Company for a sum of $1000, provided protection to Loomis in the event his car injured or killed someone or resulted in property damage.
  • It was France that first introduced the licence plate with the legislative passing of the Paris Police Ordinance on August 14, 1893. Germany followed suit in 1896 while the Netherlands was the first country to introduce a national licence plate in 1898. The first licences were plates with a number starting from 1.

In the U.S., motorists were initially required to make and display their own license plates but from 1903 onwards, each state began issuing the plates.The 1903 Motor Car Act required plates to be displayed from 1 January 1904 in the UK.Initial plates were made of porcelain baked onto iron which were found to be not practical and were later replaced by cardboard, leather or plastic.The early 20th century plates lacked standardization in size and shape and it was only in 1957 that automobile manufacturers worked with governments and international standards organizations to maintain standardisation.

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