This Day in History (3-Jul-1886) – Karl Benz drives the first automobile

Karl Benz interned at the Mechanical Engineering Society, then worked as a design engineer for many years in Austria and Germany. He opened his own business in 1883, the Benz & Company Rheinische Gasmotoren-Fabrik (which translates as Rhine River Gas Motor Factory), building stationary engines for workshops and manufacturing. He designed and constructed his first “horseless carriage.” On July 3, 1886, he drove the first automobile in Mannheim, Germany, reaching a top speed of 16 km/h. It was a tiller-controlled three-wheel steel-frame wagon powered by an internal combustion engine with a buggy-like seat for two. His test drives on the streets made of Munich made headlines for literally frightening the horses and children.

The automobile was powered by a 0.75-hp one-cylinder four-stroke gasoline engine. Benz’s engine was a refinement of the four-stroke engine designed by fellow German Nikolaus Otto, who had refined his design from Étienne Lenoir’s two-stroke engine. The vehicle further incorporated elements that would characterize the modern vehicle, including electrical ignition, differential mechanical valves, carburetor, oil and grease cups for lubrication, and a braking system. As is often the case, Benz was not the only person working on such a design. However, Benz patented his work first. As such, he patented all the processes that made the internal combustion engine feasible for use in an automobile. In 1879 his first engine patent was granted to him. In 1886 Benz was granted a patent for his first automobile.

In 1888, his wife and children drove the vehicle from Mannheim to Pforzheim in a rather daring publicity stunt to demonstrate the machine’s reliability, making Bertha Benz the first person to drive an automobile on an extensive “road trip”. Benz built his first four-wheeled car in 1891. In 1893, the Benz Velo became the world’s first inexpensive, mass-produced car. Benz’s work eventually became the foundation of Mercedes-Benz, a well known luxury car brand still available today.



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