Who Really Invented the Automobile?

Second Marcus Car Second Marcus Car

Who invented the automobile?

This is not a simple question. I am less interested in who invented the car than how we shape history and that we must do our own research to know the better truth. There are many times that one person with one agenda have shaped our perception of history into what is accepted today as fact.

To not know the truth is understandable, but not excusable when we have google and google scholar. This simple question I posed is not as simple as it seems. Try searching for yourself before reading on and see the less than direct answer you find. More importantly, why is it not a simple answer? Who complicated it? Why? Those questions are closer to the truth than what most of us know, if we know at all. Try answering those questions for yourself before you read on.


Most Americans would answer the question with Henry Ford. No, not even close. He arguably put the car into a new era were still in today but he did not invent the automobile. His first arguable car, the Quadra cycle, was first run in 1896.

Ford Quadra Cycle
Some might make the argument Duryea was the first. He was a lot closer but not the inventor. His first drive was 1893. These are Americentric views that are understandable.

Europeaners, especially Germans, might say Karl Benz invented the automobile when he first drove his internal combustion car in 1886. This is the most often accepted first automobile. I can and will argue against this example as the first.

first benz car
The Duryea and the Benz vehicles were powered by petroleum. Ford’s Quadra Cycle was powered by ethanol. The reason I make this distinction is this seems to be a criteria that is used for measure. I would claim this is only a standard because they are still fuels used today, thus making one continuous line of progression. I don’t feel that that is the definition of invention.

The pneumatic tire was invented in 1847 by a Scotsman, R.W. Thompson. It had no takers since wagons were not inclined to use them. The patent died out and was never profitable. In 1888, John Dunlop reinvented the tire. As you can see with the date, the car was already arriving on the scene so the invention then took off. But this was not Dunlop’s invention. It was his updated patent that made money. He was not the inventor even though most sources say he was.

I would even argue, the wheel was invented in about 3500 BCE. So neither invented the wheel, only the pneumatic tire. Last I read, no one knows who invented the wheel 5500 years ago, stay tuned.

Think of it this way, if the Benz Motorwagen is the first car, based on the concept that it was the first to use the same fuel that has survived today, then when in the future, a car is powered by a hydrogen fuel cell assuming they are used for a long time after, will the first one be the first automobile? Again? What?
I can counter that argument anyhow, stay tuned still.

Think of the word automobile. It means self mobile. In other words, it powers itself. It doesn’t say self mobile by an internal combustion engine using petroleum or ethanol. It doesn’t dictate and power source at all, only that it is self contained.

In 1768, Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot, a Frenchman, invented a self propelled vehicle for carrying people. It was powered by steam, much like a small locomotive. It carried people, needed to be refueled, and traveled across land on solid wheels since R.W. Thompson was not born yet. I will claim this is the first automobile. Others will not since it was not an internal combustion engine. Ok …

Lets jump to 1807. François Isaac de Rivaz, another Frenchman, invented the internal combustion engine. It was not powered by petroleum. Or ethanol! It was powered by Hydrogen. How a bout that for a twist?

So if we do have hydrogen powered cars in the future, and in fact we already do, I’d say it was somewhat invented in 1807. But the hydrogen was used differently as simply a gas type fuel, not a hydrogen fuel cell. But the hydrogen powered engine isn’t new! Now Rivaz didn’t power an automobile with his newly invented engine, he powered a platform meant to carry supplies. I do feel that is an important distinction.

The first to power anything mobile with a petroleum internal combustion engine was Siegfried Marcus of Austria. He built the First Marcus Car in 1870, maybe. This was not designed to carry people, only supplies. No example of this car exists today. What does exist is an example of the Second Marcus Car and a mystery.

The Second Marcus Car was designed to carry people. Common accepted story is that he built this automobile and first drove it in 1888. Here is the mystery. From the previous provided information, Benz first drove his example of an automobile in 1886, thus beating the Second Marcus Car by 2 years. All well and good. Or not….

If the 1888 date is accepted then why did Adolph Hitler do his best to destroy all evidence of The Marcus Car’s existence? Prior to 1940, German encyclopedias credited Marcus as the inventor of the automobile. All future copies of the encyclopedia, due to a directive by the Nazi Propaganda Ministry, credit Daimler and Benz as the inventors of the automobile. Many previously existing copies of the encyclopedia were altered. Why would this be? It is not hard to guess. Siegfried Marcus was Jewish.

In 1912, Motor-Cars and their Story, by Frederick A. Talbot, published in London in 1912 by Cassell and Company, Ltd. Fully credited Siegfried Marcus with inventing the first 4 wheeled, internal combustion automobile for carrying people in 1875. This book did get a few things wrong such as crediting a photo of the second car as the first. But what is likely is that the time line got altered over time.

There are many claims that the Second Marcus Car, which resides in a museum that hid it from the Nazis, originally drove in 1870 and the First Marcus Car first went to work in 1860 rather than 1870 as later reported. To be fair, there is no proof of this at this time and possibly never.

Here is further perspective but not evidence. If Marcus invented the propelled cart in 1870, why would he then wait 18 years to adapt it to carry a person. If Marcus really did first drive his Second Marcus Car in 1888, why would the history need to be altered by the Propaganda Ministry? Why were they trying to destroy the museum example of the Second Marcus Car? I love simple logic and apply Occam’s Razor as often as I can. I find it usually trumps muddy evidence.

Now I will still say for my idea of “invention” of the automobile was invented by Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot in 1768. The method of power is irrelevant since we call electric cars automobiles today.

This also brings a new fold to the discussion. We are discussing electric cars today as a new idea. They aren’t. In 1859, Gaston Plante a Frenchman, invented the first electric automobile. In 1867 there was an electric two wheeled cycle on display at the World Exposition in Paris. A three wheeled version was tested in 1881 in Paris by Gustave Trouvé.

The first electric car was put on sale, not just driven around, in London in 1884. This pre-dates Daimler and Benz as well. This seems to easily dispense of the idea that Benz was the inventor of the first car as well. The power source should not matter considering we today have cars powered by several versions of fuel for internal combustion engines such as petroleum in the form of diesel, gas, natural gas and LPG. We have hybrid electric vehicles. We have full electric vehicles. We also have some experimental hydrogen fuel cell cars. They are all Automobiles.

If this looks like I am trying to disparage Daimler or Benz I am not. I feel they are the beneficiaries of tilted history and a lack of understanding of definition. They manufacture some of the finest automobiles I know of and I would like to own one or two …

However, they did not invent the automobile. By my perspective they were at best third. First was Cugnot in 1768 with a steam powered automobile. Second was Plante in 1859 with an electric automobile. I feel Marcus was likely next, in the 1870s with the first internal combustion petroleum powered automobile. But with no direct evidence surviving the Nazi cleansing, this cannot be proven, yet. So next in third comes Benz with an internal combustion petroleum powered automobile.
Told ya it wasn’t a simple answer.


How the Nazis Made Daimler & Benz the Inventors of the Automobile and Wrote Siegfried Marcus Out of History


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