29 January 1886: Karl Benz patents the motor car

On this day in 1886 Karl Benz patented the first internal combustion engine on a motor car.

The engine had been in development throughout 1885, and the first ever motor car was available for sale by mid-1886 for $1,000 (just under $24,500 at 2014 prices). Although that seems quite reasonable for a brand new car today, it was quite expensive for a very basic vehicle with not much more than the engine and wheels.

However, at a time when horses were still by far the most common means of transport the new vehicle must have seemed as radical as a flying car would today.

The new car was called the Benz Patent-Motorwagen. The patent was financed by Karl Benz’s wife, Bertha, however under the law of the day she was not allowed to hold the patent because she was a married woman. The patent itself was not granted until November of 1886 but in accordance to procedure it takes effect from the date of the application.

The engine was very weak. In theory, it had quite a large engine size of 954cc, but it was only able to produce 2/3 horsepower. A modern moped with only 49cc is able to produce in excess of ten horsepower.

But the significance of this car lay in its new and revolutionary engine. It was not the design or any features but merely the fact that the single-cylinder four-stroke engine actually worked in propelling a vehicle.

Bertha Benz chose to publicise the new invention by proving its practicality in a long distance road trip. In early August 1888, she drove a round-trip of more than 96km, or over 60 miles, stopping over at the Wiesloch city pharmacy to take on fuel in the form of ligroin, making it the first ever filling station.

In all, around 25 of the vehicles were built between 1886 and 1893. Karl and Bertha Benz would later go on to found Mercedes-Benz.

  • Ben Hill

    If only they had used an electric motor instead of internal combustion…..maybe we would now have a world lead shortage and a dollar linked to battery acid….