The 120th Birthday of the Automobile

A look back at the first patented motor car and how it came to be

The automobile celebrates its 120th birthday on January 29, 2006, the anniversary of the date in 1886 on which Karl Benz applied for a patent for his motorized vehicle. With the German Reich Patent No. 37435a, granted in November of the same year, his Patent Motor Car, as this three-wheeled vehicle has since been known, received official recognition as the world's first automobile. It was the individualized technology that secured the Benz Patent Motor Car this status. Unlike other inventors, Benz did not merely install an internal combustion engine into an existing coach chassis, thereby making it capable of autonomous motion (Greek/latin: auto/mobil). His design extended to the entire vehicle: It was quite clear to him that a vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine was subject to engineering principles quite different from those applying to a horse-drawn carriage.

The further biography of the Patent Motor Car is history. Three vehicles were completed by 1888. One was secretly taken out by Bertha Benz, the inventor's wife, who drove it with her sons 100 kilometers from Mannheim to Pforzheim; this journey earned the vehicle much publicity, and Benz sold a number of cars to customers as a result. A four-wheeled vehicle, the Benz "Victoria", followed in 1893. This again incorporated numerous innovations, including double-pivot steering, which is still employed in today's automobiles. And so it continues: with each new vehicle, the automobile improves just that much more - to this very day.

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