Credit Where Credit's Due: Who invented the car?


Candace and I get so many fantastic suggestions for history topics from our loyal listeners that it's impossible to address them all in our podcasts. Luckily, writing a daily blog gives us a great platform to respond to more of them (so, keep 'em coming!).

When President Obama mentioned in Tuesday's speech to Congress that the United States invented the automobile, podcast listener Hayden questioned if that was exactly accurate. Turns out, your instincts were right, Hayden.

Because invention tends to be a long, collaborative process, pinpointing one inventor is almost always tricky. Nevertheless, most experts agree that it's a mistake to say the car originated in the United States. Purists might want go all the way back to Da Vinci's design for a car. However, many point to Germany's Karl Benz as the inventor of the modern automobile. This webpage from the Library of Congress lists all of the major milestones in the timeline of inventing the car.

Benz invented a horseless carriage with an internal combustion engine on three wheels in 1885. If that doesn't convince you, let's move on to our next eligible contestant: Gottlieb Daimler. Daimler, independent from Benz but also a German, constructed a four-wheeler in 1886 with his partner, Wilhelm Maybach. Only one American team makes the list: the Duryea brothers in 1893.

In any case, Henry Ford definitively did not invent the car, nor did he invent the assembly line for that matter, according to Kenneth C. Davis's book, Don't Know Much About History. But, we shouldn't let this detract from his business achievements.

This isn't the first time the new administration has disappointed nitpicking historians: remember Joe Biden's comment that President Roosevelt got on the television when the stock market crashed? (You can see the video and read about the mistakes at FactCheck.org). However, many consider the president's mistake inconsequential, especially compared to his predecessor's penchant for misspeaking. Let us know what you think.

You might also enjoy:How Car Engines Work Did da Vinci really sketch a primitive version of the car? 10 NASA Inventions You Might Use Every Day