Celebrating 125 Years Of The Automobile


January 29, 1886, is a defining moment in the development of the horseless carriage.

It's 125 years since Carl Benz registered his vehicle - a three-wheeled motor car - under patent number 37435 with the Berlin Patent Office in 1886. Ever since, that day has been considered the official birthday of the motor car, which in 2011 celebrates its 125th anniversary.

While the concept of the horseless carriage can be traced back to the sketchbooks of Leonardo da Vinci and the steam-powered self-propelled Cugnot Carriage of 1769, these early ideas were far from practical. Other inventors, including Frenchman Edouard Delamare-Debouteville and Italian Enrico Bernardi, have laid claim to the title of inventor of the automobile with modest patents, which in reality were mostly unsuccessful.

Central to the development of the automobile was the combustion engine in 1867, although its basic principle is credited to Christiaan Huygens as far back as 1673. The early combustion engine was powered by gas, and was further refined by Jean-Joseph Lenoir and Nikolaus Otto. The "Otto" engine solved many of the earlier problems, but in so doing was impractically large and destined only for stationary operation. This engine gave rise to the large Deutz Gas Engine factory Ag, which in 1872 employed a new technical director, Gottlieb Daimler. The following year another engineer, Wilhelm Maybach, joined the company and between them they refined the Otto engine to maximum efficiency. The pair left the company and in 1882 patented a new fast running four-stroke engine that weighed just 45kg.

The Daimler/Maybach partnership was to prosper and they developed a successful auto, named the Phoenix after his successful engine. This vehicle met all the accepted criteria for an automobile, but history shows that Carl Benz took the honour, being the first to patent his motorised machine. Ironically, the two inventors and founding fathers of today's Daimler AG and its globally successful Mercedes-Benz arrived at a similar solution, despite never meeting and living just 100km apart.

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