Facts for Historical Romance Writers – Cars


Attempts to invent cars were done as far back as the 17th century.

Steam Cars: –

In the 1800’s people mainly worked on steam cars.  Karl Benz, the inventor of numerous car-related technologies, received a German patent in 1886. In 1871 Dr. J. W. Carhart in Wisconsin used a steam powered vehicle on the existing wagon roads. 

Steam-powered automobiles continued development all the way into the early 20th century, but the dissemination of petrol engines as the choice in the late 19th century marked the end of steam automobiles except as curiosities.

Electric automobiles: –

Flocken elektrowagen

The Flocken Elektrowagen of 1888 by German inventor Andreas Flocken is regarded as the first real electric car of the world.

Electric cars enjoyed popularity between the late 19th century and early 20th century, when electricity was among the preferred methods for automobile propulsion, providing a level of comfort and ease of operation that could not be achieved by the gasoline cars of the time.

The Ford Motor Company, reduced prices of gasoline cars to less than half that of equivalent electric cars, led to a decline in the use of electric car. However, in recent years, increased concerns over the environmental impact of gasoline cars, higher gasoline prices, improvements in battery technology, and the prospect of peak oil, have brought about renewed interest in electric cars, which are perceived to be more environmentally friendly and cheaper to maintain and run, despite high initial costs, after a failed reappearance in the late-1990’s.

Internal combustion engines: –

1885-built Benz Patent-Motorwagen, the first car to go into production with an internal combustion engine.

Benz Patent-Motorwagen

Karl Benz built his first automobile in 1885 in Mannheim. Benz was granted a patent for his automobile on 29 January 1886, and began the first production of automobiles in 1888.

There was an abundance of experimenting and inventions but cars were not used in the Western prairies until well into the 1900’s. So if you are writing before the 1930’s in the west it is doubtful there were many gas stations out on the plains.

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2 thoughts on “Facts for Historical Romance Writers – Cars

  1. Enlightening information. I knew the progression for car invention but not the dates. You mention a dearth of gas stations on the prairies until the 1930’s. i drove across with my parents in the ’50s and the gas stations were sparse and roads – well.. slow, bumpy driving for sure.

    • Yes, my mom talked about driving on a gravel road through Golden/Kicking Horse pass. That’s an experience I don’t need. Mom and dad had a car and traveled in the 1930’s. By the 1950’s we had gas stations even in our little town in Northern Saskatchewan but I can see where you’d have to plan your route for fill-ups.

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