A Short History of the Motorcar

Historical Motorcar

The car has become a ubiquitous part of modern society and reasonably be regarded as one of the most important inventions of the modern age. From personal transport to logistics the automobile is one of the essential foundations on which the world now runs.

Cars have actually come a long way in just the last century or so and have been developed through countless successions of inventors standing on each other’s shoulders to take the motor vehicle to where it is now.

Steam Power

The first true step on the road to developing the modern car was actually powered by steam. The earliest example of such a steam-powered vehicle dates back as far as the 16th century and was built as a toy for the Chinese Emperor by a missionary named Ferdinand Verbeist.

Although this early steam-powered car wasn’t a device capable of carrying any passengers, the basic design became the building block for rapid evolution of motorized steam vehicles in Western Europe throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.

As early as 1770, steam-powered vehicles were being developed in the form of the artillery tractor in France and by 1784 the steam carriage in Britain. While many inventions like these were quickly dismissed due to often poor results, their brief popularity brought about the invention of hand brakes, early transmissions, and enhanced steering.

Vehicular technology actually progressed quite quickly during this time only to be stopped by the passage of the Locomotive Act (1865) which brought about a variety of progress-hampering stipulations and effectively killed road auto development for the next couple of decades.

The Internal Combustion Engine

It was not until 1885 that German inventors pioneered the petrol-powered automobile with Karl Benz building his first automobile in 1885. This invention was to provide the first long-distance journey proving the viability of the invention and signaling the surge of automobile development worldwide.

The 1885 prototype by Karl Benz is generally agreed to be the first modern iteration of the automobile, although its use was hampered by the lack of high-quality petrol available at the time.

Henry Ford’s Assembly Line

While motorized vehicles had become viable and were being built throughout Europe and North America during both the 19th and 20th centuries, they were still hugely expensive and time-consuming to build, which made them unattainable to the general public.

While there where automobile manufacturing companies as early as 1893, that were capable of creating reasonable volumes of motor cars, it would be the revolutionary actions and inventions of American industriualist Henry Ford that would make the motor car available to everyone.

The development of the automated assembly line allowed for the rapid construction of vehicles compared to previous practices. This, in turn, made vehicles far easier to mass produce and consequently bringing down the price.

Wartime Invention

Throughout the first and second World Wars, the need to carry artillery, supplies, and troops to the front line was such a key factor in military strategies that it led to a huge investment in more powerful vehicles with more efficient and powerful engines.

Great strides were made during wartime in the design of motor vehicles. As auto manufacturers focused on producing millions of vehicles for the war effort, such as the rugged and reliable US Army Jeep, they learned to improve every part of the vehicle production process. This accelerated development eventually filtered through to the commercial market, eventually bringing motor vehicles ever closer to their current incarnation

Modern Technology

In our modern era, cars have become so readily available that families can often have several cars to one home. This is a concept that would have seemed utterly absurd just fifty years previously. Advancements in mechanics, electronics and computer software have made vehicle production one of the most efficient production line technologies in the world and millions of new cars are turned out of productions plants every day.

The Future of the Car

Automotive technology has always been advancing at a breakneck pace and the common place of the car in global society has not slowed that at all. As the environmental costs of fossil fuel burning cars has become ever more apparent, there have been massive strides forward in the design and use of electric and hydrogen-powered cars.

Indeed it seems that cars have advanced to the point where even drivers are no longer needed, with self-driving car companies already trailing ride-hailing services with autonomous cars. With the future progression of the car already in hand, perhaps the idea of the flying car, first popularized in 70’s sci-fi, isn’t as far away as we might think.

Expert Training

The Northwest Driving School and Traffic School provides the Las Vegas community with live driving and traffic classes taught by seasoned instructors. All of our driving instructors have passed background checks, each automobile is DMV safety-approved and every member of the Northwest family is committed to providing excellent drivers ed and behind the wheel instruction.

At Northwest, you can expect to find outstanding classes, both on campus and behind the wheel, that are engaging, fact-filled, entertaining and geared toward success. We make no bones about it, we believe that Northwest provides the best driving lessons in Las Vegas, no matter your age or background. We are proud of the fact that 98% of our students pass their test on the first try. Call us at (702) 403-1592 to start your driving adventure with one of our expert instructors.

Written by:
Rich Heinrich
Master Instructor, Emeritus

Instructor and Office Administrator

Frankie works and karaoke's in Las Vegas but his out-of-doors-heart is still out East. Born in Boston, Frankie loves the snow and mountains. As an avid snowboarder, Frankie has never seen a snow day he didn't LOVE! A graduate from…Read More