The Dawn Of The Motor Age

The origins of the modern car is more intricate than the current industry, dominated by a relatively small number of firms producing many cars, would suggest. The first car, by some definitions, was invented in 1770 by a french man, Nicholas Cugnot. The car was “a self propelled vehicle running on a road surface.” It was a steam powered vehicle, and it was originally designed to move military equipment. It took until the early twentieth century for gasoline to become the clear favorite type of fuel moving forward for cars as steam engines and electric powered vehicles were produced widely as well.

The first automobile propelled by an internal combustion engine was a motorcycle with a wooden frame built by Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach.</p?

What we know as the modern car comes from these humble beginnings. Just as the first cars were markedly different from today’s technology, the young car industry was much different from what we observe today. At the outset, the french were the most technolgically advanced nation in terms of cars. The United States later became a leader in the industry largely because of the nation’s high per-capita income, more egalitarian distribution of wealth, and industrial advantages.

Finally, the young car industry wasn’t run by large companies with engineering teams. Hundreds of small companies produced cars of all kinds. Cars were an expensive luxury at the time, but they were simple enough than many companies could try their hands at creating one. The overwhelming majority of these firms no longer exist, but some of the prominent names in the industry were around at the beginning of the car industry’s development.

1 comment to The Dawn Of The Motor Age

  • Your description is appropriate, the early companies – 700+ in the US alone – were assemblers who bought all their parts from other firms. While names persist (cf. Cugnot) most were economically and historically irrelevant, with no discernable impact on the shape of the industry or the technology used. However, business historians find it very difficult to collect information on firms that failed, they tend not to leave archives and may have gotten little mention even in local newspapers. So we do have to be cautious thinking we understand what distinguishes winners from losers. Luck may be the biggest component…

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