Who Invented the First Car? 6 Different Inventors Might Have.

Do you want to know who invented the first car?

The answer is unfortunately far from simple.

one of the first cars

Some of the people who can plausibly claim to have invented the world’s very first car hail from a variety of backgrounds, including talented astronomers, French military engineers, and even a Renaissance genius.

Leonardo da Vinci

What didn’t this guy create?  He seems to get credit for inventing just about everything modern, doesn’t he?

Around 1478 Leonardo da Vinci created a sketch for a self-propelled vehicle.  Since this sketch never left the notebook it would probably be unfair to state definitively that da Vinci actually created or invented the world’s first car.  We should also note that the car designed by da Vinci was meant more to stimulate wonder than move people and things from one place to another.

His vehicle didn’t even have a seat and could only turn right!

Leonardo da Vinci's self propelled car

Da Vinci’s “car” was designed to be 5 feet and 6 inches long and 4 feet and 11 inches wide.  The vehicle itself works much like a wind-up toy, where the wheels need to be rotated in the opposite direction it is to go in.

It would take over 200 years for humanity to make the leap from a journal sketch to a vehicle existing in all three dimensions.  The man first able to do this spent a fair amount of time studying books and the stars.

Ferdinand Verbiest

Verbiest was a Jesuit missionary, but also a talented astronomer and mathematician.

If we give credit to Ferdinand Verbiest for inventing the world’s very first vehicle (as some do) then the first car ever created was for fun.

verbiest first car

In fact, it was a toy for the Chinese emperor created around 1672.  Although it was too small for anyone to actually be able to sit in, the vehicle is conjectured to be the very first working steam-powered vehicle.  But should that really count as the first car?

Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot


Towards the end of the 18th century steam-powered vehicles began to emerge that were large enough to transport both human beings and their things.  Such was the case with Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot’s invention, created in 1770.  Cugnot was a French military engineer, and was attempting to create a vehicle powered by a steam engine that could transport cannons. Though it was deemed impractical (it had difficulty going up hills, for one thing) and was thus abandoned in France, that didn’t stop the citizens of other nations from trying to create a new mode of transportation.

Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach


Daimler’s quest to invent an automobile picked up steam when he left Gasmotoren-Fabrik Deutz, and took a creative young man named Wilhelm Maybach with him.  Using funds from his split with his former employer, Daimler and Maybach purchased a home in Cannstatt, near Stuttgart.

When Daimler and Maybach began working in their new location, neighbors suspected that they were counterfeiters and reported them to the police.  However, when the police raided their house they found only engines.

In 1886 Daimler and Maybach created the “Cannstatt-Daimler” which was the first four-stroke engine, four-wheeled vehicle and another candidate for the first car.  They did this by bringing a stagecoach into their house, telling their ever-suspicious neighbors that it was a gift for Daimler’s spouse.  After adding a larger version of the Grandfather Clock engine to the stagecoach it was able to reach 16 kilometers per hour.

Karl Benz

Ask most people who invented the first real car, and after a little bit of chin-stroking they will probably tell you it was Karl Benz, from Germany.  What is especially fascinating about Benz’s car is the role bike riding played in its inception and actualization.

Like most of the inventors mentioned in this article, Benz was incredibly gifted.  Benz passed the entrance exam to study mechanical engineering at the University of Karlsruhe at the age of 15 and graduated by the time he was 19.  While riding his bicycle during his time at university he purportedly imagined and formulated what was to become the world’s very first car.

benz patent motorwagon

The automobile Benz invented shows unmistakable influences of the bicycle, which Benz was very fond of.  The wire wheels and the use of roller chains to transmit power

One of the things that makes Benz’s invention distinct from historical predecessors like da Vinci and Cugnot is that his automobile was not a motorized stage coach; it was able to generate its own power.  Invented in 1885 and dubbed the “Benz Patent Motorwagen,” Karl was granted a patent in 1886 for an “automobile fueled by gas.”

So Tell Me Already! Who Created the Very First Automobile?!

So who invented the first car?  Whether it was da Vinci’s imaginative sketch, Verbiest’s imperial toy, Cugnot’s steam-powered artillery wagon, or Karl Benz’s Benz Patent Motorwagen, the inevitable march towards the future of cars and automobiles had begun.

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