Henry Ford has long been credited for building the first automobile, but what I find interesting and even a little bit funny, is the fact that in reality, that first vehicle, introduced on this day, June 4, 1896, was called a Quadricycle, and in reality was far more like the modern day 4 wheeler ATV than it was an automobile. When we think of an automobile, even the early models, we think of a vehicle with a top over it, or really an automobile body over it. Such was not the case with Ford’s first design. He was more interested in making a vehicle that ran…and ran fast…than in a way to protect the passengers from the elements. I suppose that since people were used to riding in wagons or carriages, having a cover over the Quadricycle wasn’t the most important thing on the wish list. Of course, when it came to capabilities, the Quadricycle was nothing like the modern day ATV, but then the original cars were not capable of going as fast or as far as the modern day automobiles either.
Henry Ford didn’t start out as an inventor, but was actually working as the chief engineer for the main plant of the Edison Illuminating Company when he began working on the Quadricycle. He was on call at all hours, because they had to ensure that Detroit had electrical service 24 hours a day. His flexible schedule gave Ford the freedom needed to experiment with his pet project, which was building a horseless carriage with a gasoline powered engine. Ford had seen an article on the subject gasoline powered motors in a November 1895 issue of American Machinist magazine, and his obsession with the gasoline engine was born. Then, the following March, another Detroit engineer named Charles King introduced his hand built wooden vehicle with a four cylinder engine, beating Ford out by about three months. His vehicle was able to travel up to five miles per hour, fueling Ford’s desire to build a lighter and faster gasoline powered vehicle.
As great as Ford was at building his Quadricycle, which would travel at speeds of about 20 miles per hour, it is doubtful that Ford could have ever been hailed as a great designer of garages. As he and his crew went to push the Quadricycle out of the back yard shed they had built it in, they discovered that it was too wide to fit through the door. Not willing to wait another minute, Ford grabbed an axe, and smashed the brick wall away to allow the Quadricycle to be pushed out. Then as a friend rode his bicycle down the street to warn the people of the vehicle that was to follow, Ford drive his Quadricycle for the first time. I find it odd that while Charles King actually built that first vehicle, he was never really credited with doing so, and Ford went on to build many of them, and as we all know, to become quite famous doing so.