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November 5, 1895 – Selden patents the automobile

George B. Selden driving an automobile in 1905

When patent lawyer George B. Selden first filed with the US Patent Office for an internal combustion engine on May 8, 1879, it included the application of the device on a four wheel vehicle. Selden named it the Road Engine. He developed this idea some eight years before the introduction of the Benz Patent Motorwagen in Germany. He continued to file many amendments to his application, which delayed the process 16 years. He finally received a patent for his engine and car on this day in 1895. 

Selden found inspired for his invention after viewing a huge engine developed by George Brayton on display at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876. In 1878 he succeeded in producing a one-cylinder, 400-pound version of an internal combustion engine that featured an enclosed crankshaft. He was assisted by Rochester machinist Frank H. Clement and his personal assistant William Gomm. 

Once he received the patent Selden didn’t immediately begin automobile production, in fact he didn’t ever build the vehicle from his patent. He instead sold patent rights and charged royalties to automakers in the blossoming industry. However, in 1906 he did start to build cars of his own under the name Selden Motor Vehicle Company. Eventually Ford and a handful of other car companies found themselves thrown into patent infringement lawsuits. Due to this lawsuit, Selden built his first and only version of his patent wagon. Ford eventually won the case after an appeal, in a case that lasted nearly a decade. The patent expired the following year. 

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