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History of Steam Cars

If you want to learn about the innovation and creativeness of man, all you need to do is study the history of the automobile. Four hundred years before Henry Ford ever thought of developing his model T Ford, Leonardo Da Vinci and Isaac Newton were both considering ideas on how to invent a motorized vehicle. Both had even gone so far as to lay out plans for such a vehicle.

The first known design we have of a modern steam propelled car is an engraving of a steam-generated motor vehicle in 1771, designed by Nicolas Joseph Cugnot. As a bit of trivia, it is also the first recorded motor vehicle accident, as the vehicle ran into a wall. The race to build a motorized vehicle became a worldwide event as over 100,000 patents were submitted, spanning a period of over 100 years.

In 1769, Nicolas Joseph Cugnot(1725-1804), introduced the first self-propelled motor vehicle using steam power. It was used as a military tractor for the French Army and operated at a top speed of 2 1/2 miles per hour. It required stopping every 10 to 15 minutes in order to build up steam.

The original steam engine design required burning fuel that would heat water in a large boiler. As the pressure built up it would push the pistons that would turn the crankshaft which in turn propelled the wheels. This design would also be used to operate steam generated locomotives. Although the design would eventually prove to be too heavy for motor vehicle use, it proved to be a reliable system for the locomotives.

The first official U.S. Patent for a steam-powered motor vehicle was granted to Oliver Evans in 1789. In 1801, Richard Trevethick would build a road carriage propelled by steam, the first in Great Britain. From that point on, the race to build better steam-powered motor vehicles began. From 1820 to 1840 steam-powered stagecoaches would be put into regular use in Britain.

In 1871, the J.I. Case company working with physics professor Dr. J.W. Carhart of Wisconsin State University would build a working steam-generated automobile which would go on to win a 200 mile race.

Eventually, steam-powered motor vehicles would be replaced by electrically generated vehicles which would prove to be heavy, slow and expensive to operate. Finally a more efficient gas-powered vehicle would be invented, but we have the creation of steam-powered motorized vehicles to thank for beginning the invention of the modern automobile.