The very first car might be the invention of a Flemish missionary Verbiest who was born in Flanders in 1623 and was an accomplished astronomer in Europe but left Europe for China in 1658.
He built a small, self-propelled vehicle which consisted of a rudimentary, ball-shaped boiler, which then forced steam towards a turbine that could turn the back wheels.
This was a remarkable achievement, but there were some pretty big caveats . The car was so small just like a toy car. It was about two feet long, far too tiny for any human to ride in it.
The 1700s were dominated by various inventors working to use the steam engine in automobile. Thomas Newcomen and James Watt were probably the most famous of these. But the first person to take a steam engine and place it on a full-sized vehicle was a Frenchman named Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot, who between 1769 and 1771 built a steam-powered automobile more than thirty years before the railway's first steam locomotive.
Cugnot's design was quite unique. The contraption weighed about 2.5 tons, had two big wheels in the back and a single thick central wheel at the front, and could seat four people. The boiler was placed well out in the front, which made the vehicle more difficult to control. While its top speed was meant to be about five miles per hour.
Most people agreed with the fact that it had poor weight distribution and so was unable to handle even moderately rough terrain. Since its intended purpose was as a transport for heavy artillery on the battlefield, that has to be considered a drawback.One story says that the second of Cugnot's two vehicles crashed into a wall in 1771, which might make it the first ever automobile accident.
Russian inventor Ivan Kulibin came with a steam-powered vehicle in the 1780s, and it featured plenty of modern automotive hallmarks, including brakes, gearbox, flywheel, and bearing. The problem is that, though it did have a steam engine component, it still required human peddling to operate, so it can't really be considered an automobile.
Steam-powered mass transit had some limited success in the opening years of the 1800s, but it wasn't until the 1820s and 1830s that steam buses began gaining popularity with the British public.
The steam buses proved to be something of a dead end, and engineers turned their attention to traction engines, which were slower, more stable machines that were basically just steam locomotives adapted for use on land.
The Locomotive Act of 1865 said no land vehicle could travel faster than 4 miles per hour, and that all such vehicles had to be preceded by a man waving a red flag and blowing a horn.
While steam remained the main focus of inventors in search of a practical automobile, the results remained difficult to control and incapable of reaching speeds much over about five miles per hour.
The internal combustion engine provided the pathway to the first modern automobiles, with Karl Benz generally getting the credit for the first successful invention in 1886.
Vehicles with electrical engines were also invented. Between 1832 and 1839 (the exact year is uncertain), Robert Anderson of Scotland invented the first electric carriage. Electric cars used rechargeable batteries that powered a small electric motor.
The vehicles were heavy, slow, expensive, and needed to stop for recharging frequently. Both steam and electric road vehicles were abandoned in favor of gas-powered vehicles. Electricity found greater success in tramways and streetcars, where a constant supply of electricity was possible.
Austria has its own claim to the first inventor of the automobile in Siegfreid Marcus. In 1870, Marcus built a simple cart with a gasoline engine directly linked to the rear wheels. This prototype had no steering, brakes, gearing, clutch or seat. Marcus followed up the first prototype with a design for a second car, which was built years later in 1889. The papers of Marcus were destroyed by the Nazis, who did not want to draw attention to the invention of an early automobile by a Jew.
The first automobile to be produced in quantity was the 1901 Curved Dash Oldsmobile, which was built in the United States by Ransom E. Olds. Modern automobile mass production, and its use of the modern industrial assembly line, is credited to Henry Ford of Detroit, Michigan, who had built his first gasoline-powered car in 1896. Ford began producing his Model T in 1908, and by 1927, when it was discontinued, over 18 million had rolled off the assembly line.