Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot And The World’s First Automobile

The world’s first self-propelled mechanical vehicle, in other words, the world’s first automobile, was built by the largely unknown French inventor Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot.

Nicholas-Joseph Cugnot was born in Void-Vacon, Lorraine, in 1725 and was trained as a military engineer. Tasked by the army to develop a steam-powered vehicle for the purpose of hauling cannon, Cugnot devised a scaled-down working model in 1769, and in 1770, he unveiled a full-sized steam-driven vehicle, which he called a fardier à vapeur. The vehicle was modelled after the fardier, which was a massively built two-wheeled horse-drawn cart for transporting very heavy equipment, such as cannon barrels. Instead of having a horse at the front, there was a third wheel, which supported a large copper boiler and the driving mechanism. Cugnot was one of the first to successfully employ a device for converting the reciprocating motion of a steam piston into a rotary motion by means of a ratchet arrangement, which was used to drive the front wheel.

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Joseph Cugnot's 1770 Fardier à Vapeur, at the Musée des arts et métiers, Paris. Photo: Joe deSousa/Wikimedia Commons


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