French inventor and industrialist Léon Serpollet is said to have done more for the steam automobile than anyone else. While experimenting with steam vehicles in the late 1880s, he and his brother Henri built a promising steam powered tricycle that helped them convince investors to fund further developments. His funds went to the development of the flash boiler, which he patented In 1896. The device made steam a more viable fuel option for vehicles, as drivers would now have a much shorter wait time before their vehicle was ready to go.
To demonstrate the power of steam, Serpollet set out to break the land speed record, which he did on April 13, 1902 while driving a car he built and dubbed Easter Egg. Hitting a top speed of 120 km/h (75 mph), he became the first driver to hold the land speed record driving a steam vehicle. The following August his record would be bested by William K. Vanderbilt, who hist 76 mph while setting the first land speed record in an internal combustion powered vehicle. Prior to Serpollet and Vanderbilt all land speed records were set by electric vehicles. Serpollet would continue development of steam automobiles until his untimely death at age 48 on this day in 1907.
Photo: Leon Serpollet in the Easter Egg.