It’s difficult to attribute the invention of the vehicle to a single person. Not only did an estimated 100,000 patents contribute to the development of cars as we know them, but opinions on what constitutes the first real automobile vary widely. Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot, a French military engineer who created a steam-powered tricycle for moving artillery in 1769, is the answer for historians who believe that early steam-powered road vehicles meet the criteria. It could move at a speed of 2.25 miles per hour for around 15 minutes while carrying four passengers on its single front wheel, which also served as the vehicle’s steering and propulsion mechanism. Cugnot’s fardier à vapeur would then need to rest in order to regain the energy necessary to move once again.
Early steam engines were perfect for trains but carried so much weight that they were ineffective for cars moving on conventional roads as opposed to rails. (Cugnot’s second design weighed 8,000 pounds and tended to lean forward when not towing large amounts of weaponry.) Some critics contend that this is why the first real automobile had a gasoline engine. They cite Karl Friedrich Benz and Gottlieb Daimler as two separate inventors. On January 29, 1886, the two men—who had never met before—filed their patent applications in two distinct German towns. The first automobile with an internal combustion engine and an integrated chassis was Benz’s three-wheeled machine, which he drove for the first time in 1885, whereas Daimler’s motorised carriage (created with his partner,