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Until the invention of the steam engine (see 1712), the dream of a carriage that would move without a horse pulling it (a "horseless carriage") had belonged to the world of myths and legends. The steam-engine is supposed to have been put into action as early as 1769, but such steam-powered vehicles were bulky, clumsy, and slow. Even fairly advanced ones, built much later, took time to start, because water had to be heated and boiled first.


The coming of the internal-combustion engine, especially the Otto four-stroke engine (see 1876), offered a much better hope. What was needed now was an appropriate fuel, and eventually that turned out to be gasoline, a petroleum fraction with smaller molecules than those of kerosene, so that it vaporized more easily and burned more readily.

The first working automobile with a gasoline-burning internal-combustion engine was built in early 1885 by a German mechanical engineer, Carl Friedrich Benz (1844-1929). Its wheels looked like bicycle wheels, and there were three of them, a smaller one in front and two larger ones in back. It ran at a speed of 9 miles per hour, and it was the forerunner of all that was to follow.

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Author:Asimov, Isaac
Publication:Asimov's Chronology of Science & Discovery, Updated ed.
Article Type:Reference Source
Date:Jan 1, 1994
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