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Old 22nd March 2015, 19:25   #1
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The modern car as we know it, has undergone complete change many times over from the time the first 4-wheeled motorized passenger mover was made a little over a century ago. Now there is no arguing that the initial contributions were mainly from Europe and U.S, but today there is plenty of confusion on who invented the useful features of the car that we drive today, and who "copied" them. Truth is that more than half of the useful automobile inventions came from companies which had little to do with cars, rather they were either specialized electronic/mechanical engineering companies who thought up of solutions on improving mobility for the industry.

Curious as many of you maybe, I too used to read on how modern car parts came to be and the answers were quite surprising. I hope to share whatever I know via this thread.


Now this has a confusing background but this is the most likely sequence of events : Goodyear invents vulcanized rubber 1844 > R W Thompson invents pneumatic tire for carriages> John Dunlop invents slim air filled tyres for cycles > Andre Michelin develops a wider car tyre but is unsuccessful in implementation>Philip Strauss invents tube to contain air>Goodyear perfects tyre technology and also invents tubeless tyres.

Power assisted steering :

While attempts were made to make this one since late 1800's, the first actual hydraulic assist steering was invented by military engineer Francis W Davis who further refined & mass produced it with a firm called Bendix. Cadillacs (G.M owned some of his patents) were fitted with it 2 decades after its invention (1950's). Chrysler used some of his expired patents to fit their Imperial model with "Hydraguide" branded steering.

Spark Plug :

Its clear that Étienne Lenoir, a Belgian engineer was responsible for the first coil-based "jumping sparks" ignition to start an engine in 1860. Since electricity was new and exciting at that point, Nikola Tesla, Robert Bosch and Richard Simms (Daimler) also played big roles in early 1900's in developing and refining this small but absolutely essential part.

Vehicle Audio System :

Seeing the radio popularity as a potential, Chicago based Galvin Manufacturing Corporation run by brothers Charles & Joseph Galvin thought up the idea of a radio built into a car with easy to operate buttons. It was successfully made in 1930, hence also encouraging the brothers to change the name of the company. The new name was a combination of motor (automobile) and victrola (machines) aka Motorola.

Disc-Brakes :

Frederick William Lanchester (U.K) a highly ranked engineer developed the first disc-brakes in his independent factory in 1902 and caught on quite quickly due to its better stopping ability and faster cooling than drum brakes. Lanchester while being a genius in the field of automobile engineering, never directly worked for any brand. He always operated out of his independent factory.

Cruise Control :

Ralph Teetor (Indiana) a mechanical engineer, irritated by the constant gravitational pull due to the car either accelerating or decelerating, decided to make a "throttle hold" mechanism which could be varied using a 2-way screw electric motor, one way for opening the throttle & the other for reducing speed. Chrysler perfected this technology in 1950's. Interesting fact - Teetor was fully blind since the age of 5.

Double Clutch :

I had already mentioned this before in a related thread, the Dual Clutch was first thought up by a French engineer Adolphe Valentin Kegresse for the French railways. It was only much later that Ford/Porsche perfected it. BorgWarner U.S is the manufacturer of most double clutch transmissions for companies till date.

Muffler/Silencer :

Milton Reeves (Indiana) created the first muffler/double muffler almost towards the 1900's for bikes & cars. Whether it was just a simple sound-proofing chamber connected to the exhaust or if it had some form of destructive-interference like modern silencers, I'm not sure.

Airbags :

Like other parts, airbags too share multiple engineers who have refined it since the first patent filed by German Walter Linderer in 1951. His was air-compressed which simply wasn't deemed quick enough. Ford, GM & Daimler-Benz subsequently perfected the safety aid to use in their vehicles.

Air-conditioning :

A Cleveland based firm Bishop & Babcock Co offered to customise cars with an air-conditioning system. Their first test was in a NY based car maker Packard Motor Car. Subsequently Chrysler also used it before it had become fully mainstream.

Edit: I shall be adding to this thread as & when possible and whenever I come across an interesting story of invention. I encourage others to add what they know as well. Thanks for reading.


Though first patented by British engineer George Cayley, later Edward Claghorn also patented it as a harness for people/firemen/tourists to enable them to safely occupy an otherwise precarious position. It was Dr.Hunter Shelden from California who perfected retractable seatbelts in 1958 to enhance safety of car occupants who were getting seriously injured due to the stiff belt-like earlier models. Saab was first to standardise seatbelts on all models.


Mary Anderson a serial inventor out of Alabama first thought up the idea of a manual lever-based rubber wiper so that drivers no longer had to look out the door window during thick snowfalls. The date was 1903.


Though many variants of the manual turn signal had been custom fitted to cars, Oscar Simler was the first to use light-based turn signals which is standard today. The date was about 1929, Ohio. This piece still exists in the Smithsonian Museum today.

Last edited by GTO : 24th March 2015 at 12:11. Reason: Merging back to back posts
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Old 23rd March 2015, 10:15   #2
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Default Re: Parts Breakdown : Who invented what

Nice, you may find these interesting then:

Movable car headlights - 1978 - by Kazumi Tomita, Yoshitaka Fujiike

and further:

Apparatus for controlling light projection angle of head lamp of motor vehicle - 1979 by Yoshihiko Tsuzuki, Sumihiro Kaga, Nobuhito Hobo with the Nippon Denso corporation.
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Old 23rd March 2015, 16:02   #3
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Default Re: Parts Breakdown : Who invented what

The most famous suspension layout, found on vast majority of cars in the world - MacPherson Struts, named after the Earle S. MacPherson, who first designed and patented the layout when working with General Motors.

Source and more info -
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Old 23rd March 2015, 16:23   #4
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Default Re: Parts Breakdown : Who invented what

Who would ignore Turbochargers


The turbocharger was invented by Swiss engineer Alfred Büchi (1879-1959), the head of Diesel engine research at Gebrüder Sulzer engine manufacturing company in Winterthur, who received a patent in 1905 for using a compressor driven by exhaust gasses to force air into an internal combustion engine to increase power output, but it took another 20 years for the idea to come to fruition.
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Old 23rd March 2015, 16:39   #5
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Default Re: Parts Breakdown : Who invented what

The Self Starter:

Today, we all turn a key or press a button to start our cars (and most bikes!). Cranking the engine via a handle fitted through the front bumper is now the stuff of Black & White silent-era comedy movies.

While the first self starter was fitted to a car way back in 1896 by a British inventor H.J.Dowsing, the self starter as we know it was invented and patented by Charles F. Kettering and Henry M. Leland, of DELCO, in 1911. Cadillacs were fitted with self starters from 1912 onwards. By 1920, almost all cars had self starters.


Last edited by KiloAlpha : 23rd March 2015 at 16:41.
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