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Tag: invention

May 13, 1975 – Inventor of drive-in dies
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May 13, 1975 – Inventor of drive-in dies

In the early 1930s, one Richard Hollingshead supposedly came to know a familiar complaint from his plump mother, “Movie theater seats are too small for my frame,” she’d exclaim, probably. To provide his mother with a more enjoyable movie going experience, something that was still relatively new at the time, and to save her from the embarrassment surely associated with breaking chairs, Richard built an at home theater just for her. Ever the good son, Richard nailed bed sheets between two trees on their family property in Camden, New Jersey. He then aimed a Kodak movie projector at it. He changed the world when he parked the family car in front of it so his mother could watch the show through the windshield from the comfort of the large front bench seat. As soon as Richard flipped on the pr...
April 3, 1885 – The internal combustion engine is patented
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April 3, 1885 – The internal combustion engine is patented

In the early 1880s, Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach started developing what would become known as the Grandfather clock engine, which Daimler received a patented for on this day in 1885. Their workshop? A garden shed behind Daimler’s home in Cannstatt, Germany. What they came up with was an upright 0.5 hp engine, which featured a single horizontal cylinder, air cooling, hot tube ignition and cam operated exhaust valves. It weighed in at approximately 50 kg (110 lb) and had a height of 76 cm (30 in). This was the first practical internal combustion engine. Above: The 1885 Grandfather clock engine. By Morio - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0Top: A Reitwagen replica at Volo Auto Museum in Illinois. By Brian Corey They fit the engine to the pair’s Reitwagen (translation: riding car) in N...
February 2, 1839 – Edmond Berger invents the spark plug
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February 2, 1839 – Edmond Berger invents the spark plug

When the first internal combustion engines began to show up in the late 1700s, sparks began to fly, quite literally. The development of this type of engine became a primary focus for many interested in mobility and engineering. By the early 19th century, a variety of ignition systems had been developed, but hardly any found commercial success due to poor reliability issues. According to multiple, rather vague accounts, Edmond Berger, a Black man believed to be from Togo, West Africa, took a step to improve the efficiency of these engines when he invented the spark plug on this day in 1839. A spark plug relies on electricity to pass a spark between two electrodes, which ignites a fuel mixture inside an engine to generate power. Most modern internal combustion engines rely on spark...
December 28, 1938 – Death of an actress and auto parts inventor
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December 28, 1938 – Death of an actress and auto parts inventor

Often referred to as the first movie star, Florence Lawrence, AKA The Biograph Girl, took her own life on this day in 1938. But what does this have to do with automotive history? Between filming more than 250 movies, the actress invented multiple automotive parts taken for granted today. Above: Florence Lawrence. Top: Florence Lawrence sits behind the wheel of a Lozier open touring car with 1912 Pennsylvania license plates. [photo credit: Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research] Lawrence is credited with creating the first mechanical turn signals and brake signals. For the turn system, she rigged up a simple device that allowed drivers to press a button that rose a flag on the back bumper of their car to indicate an upcoming turn. She followed this up with a “stop” sig...
September 25, 1963 – First ads run for Chevrolet Chevelle
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September 25, 1963 – First ads run for Chevrolet Chevelle

Should you have opened your newspaper on this day in 1963, you may have come across an ad for a brand new Chevrolet, the Chevelle. Officially introduced by Bunkie Knudsen at a press conference the next day, the Chevelle was the only all new US car for the 1964 model year. (But what about the '64 1/2 Mustang!? Ford marketed and VINed the first Mustangs as 1965 models). Chevelle, Hebrew for "My god is a vow," or bold and beautiful, filled the gap between the smaller Chevy II and Chevrolet's full sized models. In its first year, 338,286 units left dealer lots. Top: The first Chevrolet Chevelle newspaper ads ran on this day in 1963 Above. 1964 Chevrolet Chevelle Malbu Coupe. By Barnstarbob CC BY-SA 3.0 Chevelle two door, four door, convertible and wagon variants came to market throu...
July 25, 1959 – A hovercraft crosses the English Channel
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July 25, 1959 – A hovercraft crosses the English Channel

The air was calm, the sun was out, and the seabirds were cawing, but nobody could hear them. The birds’ cries were drowned out by the motors of the first practical hovercraft, which was idling on the banks of the English Channel in Calais, France. It was on this day in 1959 that the first practical hovercraft, dubbed the SR.N1, or Saunders-Roe Nautical 1, would make a daring attempt to cross the Channel. It was no coincidence the event was taking place 50 years to the day that Louis Bleriot became the first person to fly across it in an airplane.  Captain Peter Lamb, navigator John Chaplin and Christopher Cockerell, the inventor of the momentum curtain as applied to the hovercraft principle, waved goodbye as a crowd looked on, everyone unsure what would transpire during the craft’s...
July 13, 1805 – The first self propelled amphibious vehicle is tested
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July 13, 1805 – The first self propelled amphibious vehicle is tested

Oliver Evans was an American inventor who was essential to the development of steam locomotion. After building a high pressure steam engine capable of sawing marble in the early 1800s, he set out to find financing for a steam powered carriage. When the Philadelphia Board of Health announced concerns about the problem of removing sandbars and dredging in the city’s dockyard, Evans was quick to offer a solution. He convinced the board to fund the build of an amphibious, steam powered dredging machine.  Above: Engraving of Oliver EvansTop: Sketch of the steam powered dredging machine His efforts birthed the first self-propelled vehicle in the United States, which he tested for this first time on this day in 1805. It was also the first known self-powered amphibious vehicle in the wo...
July 10, 1962 – The three point seat belt is patented
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July 10, 1962 – The three point seat belt is patented

Swedish engineer Nils Bohlin received a US patent for his three-point automobile safety belt “for use in vehicles, especially road vehicles” on this day in 1962. Volvo had hired Bohlin four years earlier as the company’s first chief safety engineer. At that time, seatbelts were rarely used outside of auto racing because the common lap belt system of the era often resulted in internal injuries in accidents. Above: 1963 Volvo P1800.Top: Nils Bohlin demonstrating his invention. Courtesy Volvo. By Lars-Göran Lindgren Sweden - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0 To remedy the problem Bohlin designed the three point seat belt system that is still used today. The primary advantage of Bohlin’s design is its ability to secure both the upper and lower parts of the body in a collision. The design woul...
February 9, 2005 – Robert Kearns, inventor of intermittent wipers, dies
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February 9, 2005 – Robert Kearns, inventor of intermittent wipers, dies

Inventor Robert Kearns, who died on this day in 2005 at age 77, is who you can thank for intermittent windshield wipers. After receiving a patent for the technology in 1967 he approached the large automakers, hoping they'd license it. They all passed. Yet, beginning in 1969 a similar system began to show up as an option in new vehicles. Robert Kearns. Top: patent filing for intermittent wipers Kearns, acting as his own lawyer, went after the Big Three for patent infringement, starting with Ford in 1978 and Chrysler in 1982. The Ford case finally came to a close in 1990. The court ruled the automaker must pay Kearns $10.1 million in damages. A 1992 verdict against Chrysler again favored Kearns, resulting in him being paid some $30 million in damages. A subsequent case agains...
January 12, 1822 – Lenoir, internal combustion engine inventor, born
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January 12, 1822 – Lenoir, internal combustion engine inventor, born

Above: Lenoir gas engine. By Johannes Maximilian - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0. Top: Illustratrion of Lenoir's Hippomobile. Jean Joseph Étienne Lenoir, Belgian engineer and inventor of the first commercially successful internal combustion engine, was born on this day in 1822. There had been internal combustion engines patented as early as 1807, but Lenoir's 1858 version demonstrated the feasibility of such a power plant. Prior to building what became the Lenoir engine, he worked extensively in electrical experimentation. 1860 illustration. Using his knowledge of electricity, Lenoir refined the internal combustion engine, using a jumping spark ignition system. The sparks ignited a mixture coal gas and oxygen inside a one cylinder steam engine converted to burn gaseous fuel. The de...

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