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.
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.
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.
Ralph Teetor, a prolific (and blind) inventor, invented cruise control. Teetor, blind since the age of five, built his first car, a one-cylinder, by the age of 12. He received his Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania. His first job post-graduation was to develop technology for steam turbine rotors used in torpedo boat destroyers during W.W.I.
Ralph Teetor became an mechanical engineer for the Light Inspection Car Company, a company founded by his family that later was renamed the Perfect Circle Corporation. The company provided piston rings to car companies such as Packard, General Motors, Chrysler and Studebaker. He soon became the Vice President of Engineering for Perfect Circle and later the President.
In 1945, Ralph Teetor received his first patent on a speed cruise control device. Early names for his invention included “Controlmatic”, "Touchomatic”, “Pressomatic” and “Speedostat” and finally the familiar name of “Cruise Control”. Teetor thought of inventing cruise control after a jerky car ride. He was being driven by his lawyer, an avid talker, who would slow down and speed up while conversing. Cruise control was first offered in the 1958 Chrysler Imperial, New Yorker and Windsor car models. By 1960, cruise control was offered on all Cadillacs.
Volvo had the first safety belts in 1849. The first U.S. patent for automobile seat beats was issued to Edward J. Claghorn of New York, New York on February 10, 1885. Claghorn was granted United States Patent #312,085 for a Safety-Belt for tourists, described in the patent as "designed to be applied to the person, and provided with hooks and other attachments for securing the person to a fixed object."
Swedish inventor, Nils Bohlin invented the three-point seat belt - not the first but the modern seatbelt - now a standard safety device in most cars. Nils Bohlin's lap-and-shoulder belt was introduced by Volvo in 1959.
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.
Buick introduced the first electric turn signals in 1938.
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.