Birthplace: Void, Meuse, France
Location of death: Paris, France
Cause of death: unspecified
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Inventor, Military
Executive summary: Steam-powered automobile
Military service: French Army (1743-63, to Captain)
In 1769, Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot designed and constructed the first working self-propelled vehicle for human travel. Perhaps best described as a power tricycle about the size of a small present-day bus, it had one wheel at the front under the boiler and two-cylinder steam engine, and two wheels at the back under the freight area. Called a fardier a vapeur (steam dray), it had a top speed that was slower than walking, about two miles per hour, even without factoring in that it needed to stop 4-6 times each hour to restock its water reservoir and allow the steam pressure to rebuild. A 1771 incident where the driver lost control and the cart ran into a wall is sometimes cited as the world's first automobile accident.
Cugnot's cart was intended to serve as a gun carriage for moving heavy artillery or up to four officers on the battlefield, but beyond a few prototypes it was never manufactured, due to a lack of interest by Louis XV's court. In 1801, Cugnot's steam-powered automobile was moved to France's Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers, where it has been on permanent display ever since.
Author of books:
Elements of the Military Art, Ancient and Modern (1766)
Theory of Fortification (1768)
The Fortification Campaign, Theoretical and Practical (1769)
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