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First Motor Vehicle (Cugnot)


The question is, when did the development of the horseless carriage begin? One possible answer would be the steam engine powered tricycle made by Nicolas Joseph Cugnot. It was the successor to the substantially lighter vehicle built in 1765. The vehicle in the illustration shown above from 1769, could move several tons of weight, however, was neither manoeuvrable nor did it have effective brakes. It's typical of steam vehicles that they are always much heavier than vehicles with internal combustion engines. Nevertheless, Cugnots vehicle is recognized as the worlds first automobile .

How it works

The single front wheel provides for the steering as well as the propulsion. The steering is, in spite of the heavy weight, extremely direct. The steam develops in the boiler at the front and is adjustably conducted, from the seat, to two vertically cylinders attached to the front axle. These drive the front wheel (figure 3) using a kind of freewheel. As so often, it was first intended for military purposes, because Cugnot was an officer of the French army and thought, primarily, about troop supplying. Unfortunately, the first presentations of the vehicle were not completely persuasive. Also the economic necessities of the French revolution were not exactly a positive influence. Cugnot died, without having his dream come true. 07/08               Top of page               Index
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Translator: Don Leslie - Email:

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