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November 5, 1895 - The First U.S. Patent for an Automobile

Posted November 05, 2007 6:00 AM by julie

George B. Selden (September 14, 1846– January 17, 1922) a lawyer and inventor was granted the first U.S. patent for an automobile on November 5, 1895.

George B. Selden was inspired by the mammoth internal combustion engine that was invented by George Brayton and displayed at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876. He began working on a smaller lighter version and succeeded in 1878 when he produced a one cylinder, 400-pound version, which featured an enclosed crankshaft. He filed for a patent on the "Road Engine" on May 8, 1879. His application included the engine and it's use in a 4-wheeled car. Sensing that the time was not right for a horseless carriage, he then filed a series of amendments to his application which stretched out the process. This resulted in a delay of 16 years before the patent US patent 549160 was granted on November 5, 1895.

Shortly thereafter, the fledgling American auto industry began its first efforts. George Selden, despite never actually gone into production with a working model of an automobile, had a credible claim to have patented the automobile. Although he had no interest in manufacturing his invention, he was very interested in benefiting from it. Under threat of suit almost all of the manufacturers, with the exception of Henry Ford, took out licenses from Selden or from the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers (ALAM), to whom he sold the patent. In fact, on most cars built during the next ten or fifteen years a small brass plaque read "Manufactured under Selden Patent."

The legal fight between Henry Ford and George Selden lasted 8 years and was heavily publicized in the newspapers of the day and ended in a victory for Selden. In his decision, the judge wrote that the patent covered any automobile propelled by an engine powered by gasoline vapor. Posting a bond of $350,000, Ford appealed and on January 10, 1911 and won his case based on an argument that the engine used in automobiles was not based on George Brayton's engine, but on the Otto engine.

George Selden had begun his own car company in Rochester under the name, Selden Motor Vehicle Company. After the lawsuit he focused production on trucks, renaming his company the Selden Truck Sales Corporation. It survived in that form until 1930 when it was purchased by the Bethlehem Truck Company.

Editor's Note: The first-ever patent for a gasoline-powered vehicle belongs to Germany's Karl Benz.

Resources:

http://www.bpmlegal.com/wselden.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_B._Selden

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Join Date: Sep 2007
Posts: 1821
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Re: November 5 - 1895 - George B. Selden is granted the first U.S. patent for an automobile

11/06/2007 2:47 PM

A very nice and interesting piece of history which when I first read it made me go YOU WHAT?

I knew that the internal combustion engine was invented by Otto you see, and this article claims otherwise.

Upon careful consideration, we are, in a way, both right as George Brayton invented a 2 stroke kerosene engine with multiple chambers. One for the compression, one for combustion and one for the expansion. This resulted in a machine not dissimilar to the steam engines of that day.

Otto invented the first 4 stroke internal combustion engine which is the basis of most of our engines of today. That confused me enough to look it all up and so you see, a day passed by without learning is a day passed by, whereas a day where you learned something is day lived.

Still I think to call both these engines "internal combustion" engines is a bit confusing.

Nice blog!

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