How Much Do You Know About the First Automobiles?

By: John Miller

True or false: Did Henry Ford invent the first automobile?

The history of the first automobile is a long and twisty road. But it's certain that Ford wasn't the first person to make one of these machines. He did, however, play a major role in helping to build millions of the machines.

Many historians agree that Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot was the designer of the first true automobile. He was from _____.

French inventor Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot built a steam-powered automobile in 1769, several years before the American Revolution. The contraption reportedly ran for about 20 minutes and carried up to four people.

The steam vehicle that Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot created in 1769 was meant for which purpose?

The Cugnot steam automobile was meant to pull heavy cannons. It featured a large steam vessel that stored potential energy to propel the vehicle

Why can't we trace the invention of the automobile to one person?

Cars aren't a single technology -- they are the culmination of many interconnected systems. Many thousands of patented inventions played a role in the making of even the simplest automobiles.

Which innovation helped to speed up the production of the first automobiles?

The auto industry didn't invent the assembly line, but it did put this concept to good use. Where once cars took a lot of painstaking labor, the assembly line drastically increased efficiency, which ultimately reduced the price of the product.

The very first Mercedes car was designed in which year?

The first Mercedes was designed by Wilhelm Maybach and Paul Daimler in 1901. It became a cornerstone for the company that eventually renamed itself Mercedes-Benz.

How much horsepower did the first Mercedes car have?

The 1901 Mercedes 35 hp was so named due to the power it generated. The 35hp car had a water-cooled engine and a top speed of more than 50 MPH.

With regard to consumers, what was one problem with the 1901 Mercedes 35 hp?

The 190 Mercedes was a solid machine, but it took a lot of people to make one, and thus, it was expensive. But mass manufacturing would eventually change the face of auto production.

What innovation did Henry Ford bring to the auto industry?

Ford didn't invent the assembly line, but he did come up with an affordable and reliable automobile design that didn't break the average person's bank account. He cars transformed the entire industry.

The Benz Patent-Motorwagen was first in which regard?

The Benz Patent-Motorwagen was the first internal combustion engine vehicle to go into production. It was essentially a big tricycle with a motor.

Gottlieb Daimler invented which aspect of modern cars?

In the 1870s, Gottlieb Daimler began building the first high-speed gas engines that would make their way into cars. Gas engines became the technology of choice thanks in large part due to the huge energy potential in petroleum.

The 1888 German Flocken Elektrowagen is often regarded as the world's first ____ car.

The Flocken Elektrowagen was possibly the world's first electric car. It looked like an oversized baby carriage, but no proper photographs of the contraption exist.

What was the name of the first Ford automobile?

The first production Ford car was the legendary Model A. Sales of the Model A commenced in 1903.

Henry Ford helped to streamline auto manufacturing with assembly line processes. What else did he accomplish?

Ford not only revolutionized auto manufacturing, he changed the way factory owners treated their employees. Ford workers had high wages and a regular work week.

In early 20th century dollars, how much did the Ford Model A cost?

The first Model A sold for around $850. In today's dollars, that's more than $21,000.

How powerful was the engine on the Ford Model A?

By today's standards, the Model A wasn’t much more than a go-kart engine. But in 1903, the 8hp motor was enough to make the car worth buying.

Which sort of engine technology became most popular in the early 1900s?

Electic and steam engines were rather rudimentary technologies. Internal combustion engines powered by gasoline quickly gained favor in the marketplace and became the technology of choice.

Who bought the first automobiles in America?

The first American automobiles were novel items that only the wealthy could afford. But very quickly, mass production made cars more affordable for the common citizen.

In 1886, Karl Benz patented his Benz Patent Motor Car. How powerful was the engine?

The Benz Patent Motor Car is regarded by some historians as the first true gas-powered car. The little .75hp engine helped get the little three-wheeled contraption rolling ... and that was about it.

The first Model T cost around $850. How did the price drop to roughly $300 a few years later?

Ford got better and better at making cars. Improved production speeds helped drop the price of the car by hundreds of dollars, and by the mid-1920s, many Americans could afford one.

Nikolaus Otto created an early _____ engine.

In the 19th century, Nikolaus Otto built the "Otto Engine." It was a four-stroke internal combustion engine that used a fuel-air mixture for energy. His design is essentially the basis for all modern gas-powered car engines.

True or false: When Nikolaus Otto built his engines, he was primarily interested in making race cars.

Otto didn't give a lick about transportation. His engine was meant to be integrated into stationary products -- fortunately, other people saw the transportation potential of Otto's work.

Many early cars were which style?

Early cars were very simple machines. They were open-top convertibles, sometimes equipped with a basic roof to block sun and rain. It wasn't until years later that enclosed cars with heaters really made an impact.

By the 1920s, there were three major car companies in America. Which of the following was NOT one of the big three?

The Saturn brand, of course, didn't come along until decades later. The "big three" consisted of GM, Ford, and Chrysler. Dozens of other companies emerged, but then quickly folded in the competitive market.

True or false: Was the Model T offered in just a single body style?

Ford offered the Model T in numerous body styles to accommodate consumer preferences. The largest was a seven-seat town car.

What was a common nickname for the Ford Model T?

The Model T was commonly called the "Tin Lizzie." Other alternative names including "flivver" and "Leaping Lena."

Which car component made automobiles much more pleasant in the early 1920s?

Early cars had rudimentary springs that made for a rough ride. In the '20s, better shock absorbers appeared, making cars much more comfortable to drive.

Which car innovation did GM pioneer in the 1930s?

In the 1930s, the car market was hitting a point of saturation. GM began the trend of "planned obsolescence," in which car companies tweaked various models from year to year to tempt consumers into upgrading … even though their old cars were still working just fine.

How many Model T cars did Ford build?

The Model T wasn't just a car -- it was a cultural phenomenon. Ford sold more than 16 million Model Ts, and it still ranks as one of the best-selling cars in automotive history.

True or false: Ford built a car called the Model B.

Ford did build a Model B, along with numerous other lettered vehicles. Some models never made it off of the drawing board and others were regarded as failures. The first Model B appeared in 1904.

Explore More Quizzes

Image: YouTube

About This Quiz

Everyone can attest to the convenience that an automobile provides. An automobile or motorcar by definition is a wheeled vehicle that is powered by an internal combustion engine and is used for the transportation of goods and people. 

The invention of such a necessary and remarkable tool cannot be credited to just one individual. Several inventors made their contributions to the automobile world. Some automobiles made the use of wind power, and others used steam.

Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot invented one such automobile in 1769. His three-wheeled vehicle featured a heavy steam-engine that allowed the car to travel a mere 2.25mph. Perhaps the first real automobile powered by a gasoline engine was created by the two German men: Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler. These inventors separately produced two gasoline automobiles in 1886. Soon, the car making business crossed the oceans and America too was on board.

They immediately dominated the automotive industry with the three companies Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler. However, their reign did not last forever. With the high demand for automobiles pushed by World War II, Japan joined in the automotive business and became the leading car manufacturer in the late 20th century. Fast forward to today, automobiles are nothing like what they first started out as. The question is, do you know enough about their humble beginnings to pass our quiz?

About HowStuffWorks Play

How much do you know about dinosaurs? What is an octane rating? And how do you use a proper noun? Lucky for you, HowStuffWorks Play is here to help. Our award-winning website offers reliable, easy-to-understand explanations about how the world works. From fun quizzes that bring joy to your day, to compelling photography and fascinating lists, HowStuffWorks Play offers something for everyone. Sometimes we explain how stuff works, other times, we ask you, but we’re always exploring in the name of fun! Because learning is fun, so stick with us!