History & Culture

Who is Carl Benz? The story behind the invention of the first car

Let’s talk about the first real motor car or automobile and its story. The person who invented the first true car was the German engineer Carl Benz. Of course, by the time he was not aware that this invention would change the whole world. The first cars were invented about 100 years after the emergence of the railroad. These vehicles increased human mobility and revolutionized areas such as the distribution of goods, business, and entertainment. Their rapid development in the 20th century dramatically changed the social outlook.

The first car with an internal combustion engine

Carl Benz was born at the time in Karlsruhe, Baden (now in Germany). Carl lost his father when he was two years old. His mother worked really hard and helped him to attend to grammar school, and then Karlsruhe Polytechnische Hochschule (Institute of Technology). Since childhood, Carl had been dreaming about a form of transport where horses and railways are not used.

Benz's DRP37435 patent for the gas-powered car.
Benz’s “DRP37435” patent for the gas-powered car.

The self-propelled vehicles were common before Benz was born. Some engineers built “cars”, mostly steam or electric vehicles. All of these were a kind of adaptation of horse-drawn carriages, but none were practical. The most important invention in the development of cars was the internal combustion engine. Combustion (heated steam) occurred in the steam engine outside the cylinder. The first practical engines developed in the 1850s in which the combustion occurred inside the cylinder and the piston was pushed directly. The most important of these was the engine invented by the Belgian engineer Etienne Lenoir (1822-1900) in 1850.

The first car with a four-stroke engine

The next step of the development of automobiles was the “four-stroke” engine, designed in 1876 by German inventor Nikolaus Otto (1831-1891). These four times, which consist of an intake of fuel-air mixture, compression of the mixture, ignition, and exhaustion, are the main principle of gasoline engines today. Otto’s engine was the first real alternative to steam engines.

Benz Cie. Rheinische Gasmotorenfabrik
Benz Cie. Rheinische Gasmotorenfabrik

After graduating from school, Carl Benz closely followed the developments in the field of engine design and started to realize his dream of making an automobile. He took part in various mechanical engineering projects and moved to nearby Mannheim in 1871. Benz developed a two-stroke gasoline engine in the 1870s. In this engine, four functions of the four-stroke engine were combined in two times, one to be performed in the upward and the other in a downward motion. Four years later, he formed a company with two other people. The company was named Benz & Cie. Rheinische Gasmotorenfabrik. The company started out with repairing bicycles. They later moved to a machine and engine production and the company grew rapidly.

The first three-wheeled car

Benz & Cie. turned out to be successful, and this success gave Benz the time and confidence he needed to make his dream come true. Benz made the first car by the end of 1885. This first automobile was a three-wheeled car powered by a single-cylinder four-stroke engine. Benz’s first car combined some important inventions of his own design. Among them were the electric starter coil, differential gears, a simple clutch, and a water cooling system. Despite his intense work and brilliant inventions, Benz could not come to a conclusion to develop a four-wheeled car. He chose the easy way and keep using three wheels on his cars. The front wheel was turned left and right with a handle in the form of a tiller.

The first car, Benz Patent-Motorwagen
The first car, Benz Patent-Motorwagen

Benz filed for a patent in January 1886 and received the patent in November of the same year. His application was approved due to the fact that the car designed by Benz was a vehicle that is able to move by its internal power source, rather than an external source.

By 1888, Carl Benz improved his design further and started producing more cars. Emile Roger, a French engineer and businessman living in Paris, obtained the sales rights of the automobile produced by Benz outside Germany, and the car became widespread.

After several innovations, such as the world’s first carburetor, the first Benz Patent-Motorwagen sold in 1887. Benz started manufacturing the car and promoted it for sale in 1888. This automobile was the first motor car to go on sale in history. However, it was not easy for society to get used to this new, odd invention. So, Benz’s wife Bertha (1849-1944) traveled with his two sons from Mannheim to home city Pforzheim on August 1888, in order to familiarize the society with the new automobile. The total distance was 200 kilometers. People have shown this some great interest and as a result of the interest, Benz’s Motorwagen became very successful, and the automobile era began.

Henry Ford’s part in the affordable cars

Even 20 years after Carl Benz’s first car patent, the number of car owners was scarce. Producing each car by hand was increasing the costs, and prices, so the customer demand was low. In 1908, US businessman Henry Ford made an attempt to change this situation with the slogan “a car for everyone”.

The first affordable car, Ford Model-T
The first affordable car, Ford Model-T

The budget Ford Model T was a great success, as its interchangeable parts were assembled in a factory designed to increase production efficiency. One of Ford’s employees saw how efficient the production lines could be when he visited a slaughterhouse in Chicago. The application of this type of production to the car industry has drastically reduced costs, making Henry Ford a great fortune.