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The History of the Motor Car for Kids

Henry Ford and his Model T  

If you think that Henry Ford created the earliest automobile, it might surprise you to learn that he didn’t. Automobiles, or motor vehicles, owe their existence to many people from different countries. The word automobile can be defined simply as a vehicle that is self-powered, and there are some designs for self-propelled vehicles as early in history as 1335!

The debut of the first successful self-powered vehicle occurred in France in 1769 and was designed and built by Cugnot and Brezin. This was a heavy, steam powered monster that weighed 4 tons and had a top speed of only 2 miles per hour. The French soldiers were able to use it to move cannons across the city, although this was certainly done very slowly.

Several of these machines were built, and one of them proved that even a slow, laborious 2 mph could be a dangerous speed. On a maiden trip through the streets of Paris this ancestor of modern cars was involved in one of the first motor vehicle accidents when it hit a heavy wall of stones and caused them to tumble down.

Another Frenchman, Etienne Lenoir, created and patented the first gas engine in 1860 and used his invention to power a small buggy through the countryside. The engine was a ½ horsepower model that could generate 100 rpm.

This is not strong or fast by our present standards today, but it was very extraordinary back then. Lenoir’s design used two cylinders to compress and burn the gas, but in 1862, Alphonse de Rochas created the single cylinder combustion system for engines that is still being used today.

In Germany, both Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz created motorized vehicles during the 1880s. It was during the late 1800s that motorized transportation began to be a fascination for inventors in many countries but England refused to be a part of this innovative process.

There had been some accidents involving steam-powered cars, but most of the opposition had occurred because of wealthy railroad owners who did not want any competition. This action caused the UK to miss out on much of the beginning of motorcar development.

The Duryea brothers developed the first gasoline powered American car in 1893 and the “horseless carriages became more frequent during the next few years. Many people were frightened by the idea of a vehicle that could move without using animals to pull it along the road.

Ransom Olds gained fame as the first mass producer of gas powered cars in America, and he even produced electric vehicles for a couple of years. In 1901 the Olds Motor Company began selling the single cylinder Curved Dash Oldsmobile for $650.The newly formed auto titan sold 600 cars the first year and 2500 the second year.

Henry Ford was not the first to build or sell motorized vehicles, but it is still his name that remains most closely associated with the auto industry. Ford did build cars but he also was the first to use conveyor belts and establish an assembly line method for building automobiles. He began this practice in 1913 and in just 15 years, his company had already produced 15 million motor cars.

It was the Ford Model T that elevated Henry Ford (above) to “superstar” status. Originally the price of the car was between $825 -$1000, depending on the model. Thanks to the assembly line, the price on a Ford Model T runabout was lowered from $825 to $345 in just a few years. This made it an inexpensive vehicle for regular folks. Not only was the price affordable, people also were very pleased because the Model T was easy to repair and would last for years.

This is an original news article © The Kids Window

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