Ten Great American Vehicle Inventions

Published: 09th February 2012
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Even though the automobile itself was actually invented in Europe it’s no secret that we Americans love our cars. Since the invention of the automobile America has been among the leading engineers of new automotive technology, and we created many of the greatest automotive inventions ever made.

An American inventor was actually the first to develop the motorcycle. A man in New England was the first to invent the motorcycle sometime between 1867 and 1869. His name was Sylvester Howard Roper and his invention was definitely not something you would see anyone on today, but back in his day it was considered amazing new technology. The motorcycle was like a regular bicycle but with a steam boiler bolted between the wheels. The motorcycle was operated by twisting the wooden bicycle handles forward to power the charcoal-fired single cylinder engine. The driver could also brake the machine by twisting back on the handles. Experts are unsure of what kind of performance the motorcycle was able to have since the machine killed him during his demonstration in1896.

Americans were also the first ones to invent the windshield wiper. Mary Anderson invented the first windshield wiper in 1905. the primitive design was a spring-loaded, rubber-bladed lever. The reason that Anderson decided to invent the product was because she had seen someone who had to roll down their front window to see during a storm. The wiper was activated by a lever inside the vehicle. Strangely enough critics weren’t too happy about the windshield wiper. They lauded the idea as potentially distracting. But by 1917 they finally became a standard invention on all automobiles, and we’re definitely glad we have them today!

When vehicles were first invented their drivers had to endure the arduous task of hand cranking their engines before each trip and after every stall. In 1911 a patent was filed for what he called an “engine starting device” by Charles Kettering, who would later become vice president of General Motors. Because of Kettering’s invention, hand cranking was obsolete by the 1920s. Kettering was also the inventor of the Freon refrigerant and variable-speed transmissions.

Another 1911 invention was Ray Harroun’s rearview mirror. He was an engineer and racecar driver based out of Texas and it was precisely his racing that led him to the invention of the rearview mirror. Before there were rearview mirrors racecar drivers would have a passenger with them to watch out for other cars coming up on the rear. But Harroun couldn’t find anyone to ride with him so he attached a small mirror to his windshield.

There is of course the American auto invention that everyone knows of. In 1908 Henry Ford invented the Model T and then only five years later he managed t invent modern automobile manufacturing. He broke the assembly of his vehicles down into 84 specific steps and it was this invention that allowed his company to produce a new vehicle every 93 minutes.

When the v8 engine was first created it was given a very limited production, due to the difficulty in producing it. Originally it was reserved for boat and aircraft powerplants and a few racecars and custom vehicles. Then in 1915 the first mass produced v8 engine was created in America, making the technology available to everyone.

In the 1920s Ford had started the invention of what we know today as bioplastics. At that time bioplastics wasn’t even a word, but Ford had found a way to make a few of the automobile parts out f corn and soybeans. In 1941 the first car made of bioplastics was invented. The vehicle was a third of the weight of the regular steel vehicles often produced at that time and the frame was built from soybean plastic.

In 1939 an American car company invented the first air conditioning device that came factory installed on a vehicle, but it flopped at first. The release of the new technology came just around the time of World War II where people were focusing on thrift and sacrifice. The first car air conditioner was also a massive piece of equipment that took up half a vehicle’s trunk, and cost consumers what would have been the equivalent of four thousand dollars today. Only two years later the auto company stopped offering air conditioning as a feature. Finally it regained popularity in the fifties, when Americans started spending more and more on luxury items.

Charles Kettering, who we talked about before, did not create the automatic transmission, but oversaw its mass production at GM. The Hydra-Matic Drive was the first automatic transmission to be mass produced. GM pioneered the four speed system using both fluid coupling and hydraulic control. It was available as an optional feature when it was first released but General Motors still lost money on its production at first. The problem was that they were selling the vehicle for less than it cost to build it. But in 1948 around ninety five percent of drivers chose automatic transmission on the cars it was available in, and the industry began making it standard.

The last invention on the list is the catalytic converter, invented in the 1950s. It actually took some legislation to get the catalytic converter to become a legal device for use in cars. But in 1975 the EPA passed new regulations that required better carbon emissions from vehicles, and the catalytic converter was the easiest solution.

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