Two Germans, Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler, both took credit for making the first car. Eventually the car companies that they founded combined to become the Daimler-Benz Company, which still produces Mercedes-Benz automobiles more than 100 years later.
Carl Benz was born in 1844, 10 years after Gottlieb Daimler. Both Germans were mechanical engineers who worked to develop internal combustion engines that ran on liquid gasoline. Then they installed the engines on bicycles, carriages and other vehicles that were normally powered by people or animals. When these early experiments worked well, the inventors continued to improve their designs until the first cars were ready to race.
Carl Benz used a gasoline-powered engine with one cylinder to power a three-wheeled car in 1885, but he did not get it patented until 1886. His car had a tiller to steer the front wheel. Carl Benz began selling his cars in 1887. Gottlieb Daimler patented his internal combustion engine in 1885. He also invented a carburetor. Gottlieb Daimler sold one of his first cars to the Sultan of Morocco in 1889. In 1926, the two companies became the Daimler-Benz Company.
Other European and American inventors added innovations to make other versions of early automobiles. Emile Levassor, a French man, was the first person to think of putting the engine in the front of the car. This allowed a more powerful engine than those used by either Benz or Daimler. Levassor's engine had two cylinders. He showed off his automobile in a 700-mile race in France, which he won in 49 hours.
Automobile races became popular ways for American car makers to test market their designs. They also helped get the onlookers interested in perhaps becoming car owners someday. One famous car race happened in Chicago on Thanksgiving Day in 1895. Two car makers from Springfield, Massachusetts, Charles and Frank Duryea, entered one of the two cars that finished the 49-mile race. The other winner was one of Carl Benz's cars from Germany.
It did not take many years before cars became affordable to regular people. In 1900, 48,000 people attended the first National Automobile Show in New York's Madison Square Garden. In 1908, Henry Ford started the Ford Motor Company, which became famous for building the Model T, which sold for $850 at first. It got cheaper, though--8 years later, a Model T Ford only cost $360. New 2009 Fords range in price from $17,000 to more than $34,000.
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