October 22, 2013

"When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks..."

"... because that’s what you needed on the farm."

That's an analogy from Steve Jobs, quoted in a NYT article about the newest iteration of the iPad. Is it really true that the earliest cars were truck-like? I didn't believe that. I Google. I get to Wikipedia. I'm amazed and call out this question to Meade (who is editing dog video in the next room): "When do you think the earliest thing that could be called a car — an automobile — was?" He says 1910, then re-guesses 1890. I say: "1672."

Ferdinand Verbiest, a member of a Jesuit mission in China, built the first steam-powered vehicle around 1672 as a toy for the Chinese Emperor. It was of small enough scale that it could not carry a driver but it was, quite possibly, the first working steam-powered vehicle ('auto-mobile').
Yes, you can say that doesn't count. But if it doesn't, we've still got things in the 18th century:
Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot demonstrated his fardier à vapeur ("steam dray"), an experimental steam-driven artillery tractor, in 1770 and 1771. As Cugnot's design proved to be impractical, his invention was not developed in his native France. The centre of innovation shifted to Great Britain. By 1784, William Murdoch had built a working model of a steam carriage in Redruth, and in 1801 Richard Trevithick was running a full-sized vehicle on the road in Camborne. Such vehicles were in vogue for a time, and over the next decades such innovations as hand brakes, multi-speed transmissions, and better steering developed. Some were commercially successful in providing mass transit, until a backlash against these large speedy vehicles resulted in the passage of the Locomotive Act (1865), which required self-propelled vehicles on public roads in the United Kingdom to be preceded by a man on foot waving a red flag and blowing a horn.
When do you think was the earliest law stopping progress?

14 comments:

Michael K said...

How do you explain the Model T ?

Rusty said...

I apologize in advance.

You just know that there was some one determined to stamp out the development of fire.

Bob Ellison said...

Ok, I get it. Meade. Move on.

Hagar said...

"Cars" implies gasoline engine and Gottfried Daimler around 1885 and quite lightweight "horseless carriage."

The first statute impeding progress was enacted by the first formally established tribal government of a settled community - probably in the Indus Valley about 10,000 BC.

Big Mike said...

When do you think was the earliest law stopping progress?

Early Mesopotamia, when someone tried to put a stop to settling down and farming, and insisted that everyone continue the nomadic lifestyle.

Carl Pham said...

Beware Wikipedia on things like this. The whole project is edited by people who have a deep sympathy for brilliant 98-pound geniuses in whose face history has kicked sand because they lived in mom's basement and spent their lives dreaming instead of doing. I wonder why?

Anyway, the hypothesis is plausible bullshit. A truck is a very expensive way to move things. Even today, it's only done for objects with high $/kg. If you want to move serious cargo -- coal, iron, grain -- the choice was, and still is, a boat if you can, a railroad if you must, with trucks for the last bit where you are scattering your deliveries across a city.

The first automobiles were toys for the wealthy to move themselves faster and cheaper and more reliably than a carriage. They competed with elegant barouches amd matched Morgans, not locomotives and boxcars. (This is amusingly reflected in the design of cars, which have long incorporated design flourishes hinting at the smart carriage.)

They were well within the ken of engineers from about the time of Newcomen on (1715 roughly). If I had to guess, I'd say the transformation from curiousity to commodity in the 1890s was the direct result of the Victorian rise in industrial working class wages, which made it increasingly expensive for the wealthy to staff a stable for personal transportation.

A contributing factor was probably the depletion of whales in the same time that led to the exploitation of petroleum in search of economical flammables for home lighting. It's amusing that Rockefeller (of Standard Oil) built his empire on kerosene, first, and only later profited by the internal-combustion engine market for the naphtha by-product.

Carl Pham said...

When do you think was the earliest law stopping progress?

Is there another kind? I'm trying to think of a law that has accelerated progress, and drawing a blank. I suppose a case can be made for patent law circa 1500.

That isn't necessarily pejorative. I mean, isn't the purpose of a law to prohibit that which people would otherwise naturally do? And since people naturally love technological progress, I'd think laws, to the extent they influence progress at all, are all about restricting it or slowing it in the name of some (allegedly) higher ethical good.

Sean Gleeson said...

When do you think was the earliest law stopping progress?

That's an easy one. Genesis 1:16-17.

And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

John said...

For me, this is easy. Henry Ford invented the first car, the Model T, in 1908.

No, not the first thing that could be called an automobile but before the Model T, autos were expensive, required more or less a full time mechanic and chauffeur and were generally just playthings.

The Model T was the first practical car. Well made, easy to operate, maintain and fix and cheap. $860 in 1908 (about half the cost of other cars) and by 1927, $260.

It was not made for the farm, though it found plenty of use there as well. It was made for general use and boy was it ever used generally! Like the I-Pad it was used in all sorts of ways that could not have been foreseen when it first hit the market.

Looking for something great to read? Try Henry Ford's "My Life and Work" available on Gutenberg. Best book on manufacturing ever.

Ford also invented the Toyota Production System (TPS) that we have heard so much about in the past 20-30 years. He started TPS 40 years before Toyota made its first car.

John Henry

John said...

For me, this is easy. Henry Ford invented the first car, the Model T, in 1908.

No, not the first thing that could be called an automobile but before the Model T, autos were expensive, required more or less a full time mechanic and chauffeur and were generally just playthings.

The Model T was the first practical car. Well made, easy to operate, maintain and fix and cheap. $860 in 1908 (about half the cost of other cars) and by 1927, $260.

It was not made for the farm, though it found plenty of use there as well. It was made for general use and boy was it ever used generally! Like the I-Pad it was used in all sorts of ways that could not have been foreseen when it first hit the market.

Looking for something great to read? Try Henry Ford's "My Life and Work" available on Gutenberg. Best book on manufacturing ever.

Ford also invented the Toyota Production System (TPS) that we have heard so much about in the past 20-30 years. He started TPS 40 years before Toyota made its first car.

John Henry

Hagar said...

Sean Gleeson wins.

Peter said...

The Model T was a small car by today's standards, weighing in at well under 2,400 pounds- which is less than most of today's subcompact cars.

But they were versatile. Some were sold as pickup trucks and still others were converted for use as tractors. With modifications one could add a power take-off and use it to power either moving or stationary implements.

But what does that have to do with PCs and tablets? People still mostly use PCs for work, and likely will continue doing so. But a PC can easily last for a decade or so without becoming obsolete, and in any case it's become a low-cost commodity. And I'd guess a lot more are being made to last now that Microsoft has pooped Windows 8 all over new ones.

So I can't see tablets replacing PCs for most work tasks, even though no one's making much money off of them. Although the failure of Windows 8 does present Apple with the opportunity to finally win the PC market from Microsoft.

Although it probably won't, as that would require offering lower priced computers that were less proprietary- and they just won't do that.

Sigivald said...

Hagar said: "Cars" implies gasoline engine and Gottfried Daimler around 1885 and quite lightweight "horseless carriage."

Steam powered cars were mass-produced until the early 20s, and diesels never stopped - though I'll read "gasoline" as "internal combustion", charitably.

"Car" certainly didn't always imply a gas/diesel motor, though - steam cars were faster and sometimes more practical than the early gas designs.

And, hell, there were early electrics back then, before internal combustion got efficient enough to beat them.

"Car = gasoline/internal combustion" is roughly true now (apart from the resurgence of electrics as plausible again), but not historically.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

The first automobile on my grandparents' Iowa farm was a car, and that came before the first tractor.