Looking Back to the Cars of the Past

May 25, 2016
Dilyana Dobrinova

We all love talking about the future. People discuss whether Tesla and EVs will take over the world. Or if Toyota has a better idea of what makes a futureproof car. We even point to Google and their self-driving cars.

But sometimes too much thinking about the future can make us forget where we came from. So, here we are – devoting an article to the cars of the past and how they “innovated” their world.

Who invented the automobile?

On the surface, there should be a clear-cut answer to this question. However, we can look thousands of years back and still not figure it out. Not because we are denying Henry Ford’s Revolution. Exactly the opposite. Because it is just a milestone on the way, and we know there is way too much history prior to his invention that we shouldn’t be neglecting.

People have been using “cars” centuries before the birth of Christ. The sled, the carriage, even the modern automobile all play on the idea of transportation. Really, the story is more muddled than just saying Ford, or Benz, or whoever else “did it”. What about Da Vinci? He had schematics all the way back in 15th Century!

Image Property: www.henryford.org
Image Property: www.henryford.org

How did the wheel change the world?

If you go back in time you will say that humans invented vehicle to carry… items, not people. For example, our ancestors used a sled to move a load from one place to another. Pulled by dogs, later by horses and oxen, sleds were the simplest invention to transport things. And then came the wheel!

With the invention of the wheel more than 5,000 years ago, the wagon and the chariot became “the modern cars” of their time. The Roman Empire and Mesopotamia were taking advantage of vehicles long before the first discoveries of petroleum. The Roman roads and the Mesopotamian canals were the first infrastructures ever established. They revolutionized transport.

But it wasn’t until the late Middle Ages that people realized they could use their vehicles for more than just carting goods from place to place. Thanks to the desire for travel and discovery, by the 18th-century people had dozens of ways to move around and see new places. Plus world travel had become more affordable and way cooler!

Do we even have to mention the air balloon? Or those bicycles that we only see in circus today? Although we don’t classify these vehicles as cars, they all involve elements of the modern automobile and were essential steps in its development.

What was the first car in the world?

In the past, people mostly traveled locally, so simple mechanisms did job well enough. With the invention of the steam engine, people’s thinking changed drastically. Ingenious engineers started crafting their own mechanisms, and soon the first engines were born. We have to thank Nicolaus Otto for that. But an engine does not make a full car!

While the 18th century was just a warm-up, the 19th century turned into the battle of the first automakers. Karl and Bertha Benz were the first to popularize the automobile as a vehicle for traveling. Intentionally or not, it was exactly Bertha that turned the first Benz car into a sensation. It used fuel from the chemist’s shops and could barely move uphill, but there it was – taking Mrs. Benz and her children all the way to their grandmother’s.

Daimler and Maybach were the first rivals of the Benz family. They developed the first motorbike, but soon afterward partnered with Benz to create one of the oldest and most lucrative partnerships in the automobile industry – Mercedes-Benz. The brand has developed plenty of interesting models. Want to see one of them? Check out this Mercedes-Benz C111!

Cars of the Past

What made Ford Model T so special?

Undoubtedly, the most widely known car invention in the history of automobiles was Henry Ford’s Model T. And just like many of today’s inventions, his creation was conceived as a solution to a personal problem. Ford’s foot got caught in the stirrups of a horse. The man was dragged on a very unhappy tumbling journey back home.

Having lived through several other similar misfortunes, young Henry decided he would create the simplest possible “horseless carriage” to solve the drama of traveling on a horse. It took him 12 years and eight different car models until he got what he was hoping for – Model T.

At that time all existing cars had price tags more suitable for rare collectible art than for a means of transport. What did Model T do? It shook the ground, making cars affordable to the masses.

To illustrate, let’s put it this way – Benz’s simple car model Victoria only sold 45 units because of its enormous price tag. On the contrary – Ford’s company sold around 15 million Model Ts. And a happy (and quite wealthy) Henry Ford wrote down quickly in his notebook: “The horse is DONE.”

How great is Ford’s Legacy?

Ford’s invention of the assembly line keeps on inspiring thousands of Americans to this day. In gratitude and devotion to the Henry Ford revolution, people keep on organizing events dedicated to the businessman. “The Old Cars Festival”, for example, gathers people every year to celebrate that moment in history.




But does Ford’s story sound familiar to you? Or should I make this more obvious by openly saying that Henry Ford found his successor in the face of Elon Musk? Maybe we truly are living the second revolution of the automobile industry. Just a thought. Shared by many…

Love it or hate it, Tesla changed the car game just like Ford did. No wonder every other car marque is playing catch-up now. Maybe centuries from now, there will be “The Old EVs Festival”. There it will be – Tesla’s Model 3, just like Ford’s Model T, showing its aristocratic but also unpretentious look. And everyone will have arrived at the event in their modern self-driving cars. Funny how we got from the past back to the future again!

Interesting how history repeats itself, right? If you like learning about cars, you should also take a look at our article on the world’s first hybrid car!


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