World’s First Automobile

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Carl Benz
Carl Benz

The first stationary gasoline engine developed by Carl Benz was a one-cylinder two-stroke unit which ran for the first time on New Year’s Eve 1879. Benz had so much commercial success with this engine that he was able to devote more time to his dream of creating a lightweight car powered by a gasoline engine, in which the chassis and engine formed a single unit.

Carl Benz (November 25, 1844 – April 4, 1929) was a German engine designer and engineer, generally regarded as the inventor of the first automobile powered by an internal combustion engine, and together with Bertha Benz, pioneering founder of the automobile manufacturer Mercedes-Benz which is now one of the leading car brands.

Benz Patent Motorwagen, 1886 - the world's first automobile
Benz Patent Motorwagen, 1886 – the world’s first automobile

As Benz was unable to fall back on existing groundwork, and no solution for the steering of a four-wheeled vehicle had been found up until then, for the time being he concentrated on building a three-wheeled vehicle. The “Velocipede” which originated in 1886 can be regarded as the world’s first automobile, despite being limited to three wheels.

On January 29, 1886, Benz applied for a patent for his “vehicle powered by a gas engine.”

Long-distance journey by Bertha Benz (1888)

Using an improved version and without her husband’s knowledge, Benz’s wife Bertha and their two sons Eugen (15) and Richard (14) embarked on the first long-distance journey in automotive history on an August day in 1888. The route included a few detours and took them from Mannheim to Pforzheim, her place of birth. With this journey of 180 kilometers including the return trip Bertha Benz demonstrated the practicality of the motor vehicle to the entire world. Without her daring – and that of her sons – and the decisive stimuli that resulted from it, the subsequent growth of Benz & Cie. in Mannheim to become the world’s largest automobile plant of its day would have been unthinkable.

Invention of double-pivot steering

Carl Benz achieved another crucial technical breakthrough in 1893 by inventing double-pivot steering, which solved the problem of steering four-wheeled vehicles. Carl Benz who had the double-pivot steering system patented in 1893, thereby solving one of the most urgent problems of the automobile. The first Benz with this steering system was the three-hp (2.2-kW) Victoria in 1893, of which slightly larger numbers with different bodies were built. The world’s first production car with some 1200 units built was the Benz Velo of 1894, a lightweight, durable and inexpensive compact car.

The Benz Velo became a big

By Chris 73 / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0,
The Benz Velo from 1894 was the world’s first series-produced automobile. Source – By Chris 73 / Wikimedia Commons

commercial success. It was followed by an engine-powered bus and a truck.

1897 saw the development of the “twin engine” consisting of two horizontal single-cylinder units in parallel, however this proved unsatisfactory. It was immediately followed by a better design, the “contra engine” in which the cylinders were arranged opposite each other. This was the birth of the horizontally-opposed piston engine. Always installed at the rear by Benz until 1900, this unit generated up to 16 hp (12 kW) in various versions.


  1. Wikipedia