Contrary to popular belief, the automobile has been around for a long time. It just didn’t become practical until the last century.
The first automobile was developed in the 18th century and was powered by steam. The first hydrogen-powered car was invented in the early 19th century, and the first electric ones were developed at the end of the century.
In 1886, the gasoline powered car patent was awarded to the future cofounder of Mercedes-Benz, Karl Benz.
Initially, these motor cars were nicknamed horseless carriages because the body of the vehicle was virtually identical to that of a carriage.
Turn of the 20th Century
In the early 1900s, electric cars were the most popular vehicles. Then advances in combustible engine vehicles meant gas-powered cars became more practical and soon overtook their electric cousins.
Cars began as playthings for the rich. There was virtually no infrastructure and most roads were not paved. Vehicles could not be driven in bad weather. They simply weren’t practical as a reliable form of transportation.
However, by the turn of the century, car companies were popping up all over Europe, Asia and North America. Many of the brands we recognize today got their start during the 1890s and early 1900s including Ford, Renault, Peugeot, Oldsmobile, Rolls-Royce, Daimler, Fiat and Mitsubishi.
Many smaller companies also were formed. Once such company was Bell Motor Co. It produced up to 40 Barrie Bell cars at its manufacturing plant in Barrie, Ontario, from 1916 to 1918. The company then went bankrupt.
Most of these smaller companies either went out of business or were bought out in the late 1910s and the early 1920s.
During the first two decades of the century, automobiles and trucks became increasingly more common. Motoring became an activity both sexes could enjoy equally. For women, it brought a source of freedom that nothing, other than perhaps the bicycle craze of the 1890s, could bring.
Also during this period, cars took on their familiar form, and auto racing was invented.
World War One
World War One is the first war where motorized vehicles played a large role.
During the First Battle of the Marne in September 1914, the French needed a way to transport troops to the front before the Germans could overrun their positions near the Marne River, and the railway system was unreliable. Six hundred taxis were requisitioned by the army to transport 6,000 troops. These Taxis of the Marne are attributed as one the reasons why the French won the battle.
The convoy, which included not just taxis but race cars, limousines and trucks, was ordered to drive without headlights. This was difficult as it was dusk. Each vehicle carried five soldiers.
The taxi drivers ran their meters the entire trip and were reimbursed by the French government.
After all the troops were delivered, some taxis making a second trip, the drivers were free to go, but some stayed to help transport the wounded to safety.
The following is footage of the convoy:
Medical corps relied on both horse-powered and engine-powered ambulances. There were devoted ambulances as well as ambulance trailers that could be attached to touring cars.
Here is an example of each:
Ambulances were often donated to the war effort by wealthy families. Many were retrofitted cars. Eventually standards were written for ambulances.
Ambulance trailers were used in Britain to transport the wounded from the train station to the hospital.
What was your first car? Leave a comment below.
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