In the United States, at least, many of us equate the first car to Henry Ford, but in reality, that is not the case. In fact, the first car wasn’t built in the United States at all. Henry Ford made great strides in the automobile industry, to be sure, but he didn’t start it all. That honor goes to two European engineers, Karl Benz and Emile Levassor. Benz and Levassor created the first automobile in the 19th Century.

Benz patented the first automobile in 1886. It was called the Benz Patent-Motorwagen (meaning “patent motorcar”), and it was actually built in 1885 by Karl Benz. This one is widely regarded as the world’s first production automobile…meaning a self-propelled vehicle for carrying people. I suppose that at the time, the vehicle was considered expensive with an original cost of 600 imperial German marks, which equates to approximately 150 US dollars, or about $4,321 in 2020. Karl Benz applied on January 29, 1886, and the vehicle was awarded the German patent number 37435. Following official procedures, the date of the application became the patent date for the invention once the patent was granted, which occurred in November of that year. Benz actually unveiled his invention to the public on July 3, 1886, on the Ringstrasse in Mannheim. About 25 Patent-Motorwagen were built between 1886 and 1893. The car is currently being maintained by Mercedes-Benz Classic.

The “car” was really a glorified tricycle…with a motor, of course. It had three wheels that looked much like bicycle wheels. It would not be the kind of car that a person would want to ride in during the winter months. There is no top on the vehicle at all, and of course, no heat. It’s just you and the elements. Still, you could get where you were going faster, at least for that time in history. So, you didn’t have to be out in the elements as long. The car was a little primitive, but it did set a record or two. On August 5, 1888, Karl Benz wife, Bertha was the first person to drive an internal-combustion- engined automobile over a long distance…about 65 miles. Long for the time, I guess. She was actually field testing the Benz Patent-Motorwagen. They were working on inventing a brake lining and solving several practical issues during the journey. The car did well, and in doing so, she brought the Patent-Motorwagen some worldwide attention and got the company its first sales. It was an amazing day.

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