The Cugnot Steamer, 1769


Before there was Henry Ford’s Model T became popular, there were other series of Ford’s letter cars. However, well before Ford’s car industrial revolution, nearly one hundred years before that point was the first vehicle to move under its own locomotion; the design was created by Nicholas Joseph Cugnot and was constructed by M. Brezin in 1769. Currently, a replica of this vehicle is on display at the Paris Conservatoire des Arts et Metiers.

The French Minister of War, Etienne- Francois commissioned the development when something more practical than horses were needed for hauling abought larger, heavy, artillery. Cugnot and Brezin, a military mechanic, assembled this “car” at the Paris Arsenal. The biggest obstacle they faced was the ability to redirect the lateral motion of the steam engine into a forward motion. To do this, Cugnot and Brezin placed the engine and boiler over the front wheel and used two pistons to pushed serrated discs on either side of the front wheel.

A second unit of this model was built in 1770, weighed 8,000 pounds, and had a rocketing speed of two miles per hour. On its first venture around Paris, this car prototype hit and knocked down a stonewall. Due to its design, it also had a tendency to tip forward unless it had its counterweight, a cannon, tied down in the rear. Of course, the purpose of such a heavy vehicle was, in fact, to transport cannons around town.

The Cugnot Steamer had a five-ton towing capacity, despite its lowly top speed. One thing the Cugnot car lacked was a braking system; perhaps that was a bit more than an oversight on Cugnot’s behalf. After further development, a four-passenger version of the steamer was introduced.

By 1771, the project was stale. Although countless other designers played around with the prospects of steam-powered vehicles, it would not be until Gottlieb Daimler developed the combustible engine nearly 115 years later, that automobiles became a viable option for transportation again.

By the time the internal combustion system was produced, there had been numerous attempts at other forms of vehicle power, such as gunpowder carburetors; coal gas perpetual pressure vessels; and Etienne Lenoir’s practical gas engine of 1860, which allowed him to drive a car from Paris to Joinville in 1862. This one-half horsepower engine had a bore of five inches and a twenty-four inch stroke; it only had a rotational per minute speed of one hundred rotations.

Seven years before the American Revolution, there had been the prototype for cars; mind you, they were not as stylish as the ones of modern days, but they were pragmatic and functional, at least for the sake of hauling artillery without expending horsepower, quite literally. While the “Tin Lizzie,” Ford’s Model T, was practical and affordable it was far from being the first car ever. That spot is reserved for the Cugnot Steamer of 1769, which is both the first automobile and recorded vehicular accident known in the history books.

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