One hundred and thirty years is a long time.That’s the age, more or less, of the automotive industry and naturally, its history is steep. Thousands of makes and models have come and gone over the decades, but only a few have really revolutionized the way auto manufacturers do business.
These are the vehicles that made everyone sit up and take notice. The ones that reshaped the North American automotive landscape.
Narrowing the field down to just one vehicle per decade was not easy. We focused on cars, trucks and SUVs that changed the industry specifically in North America, although that doesn’t mean it had to specifically be a North American vehicle. So, here are the 14 vehicles that changed the world and a few honorable mentions as well.
1880s – Benz Patent MotorWagen
The dawn of the automotive industry saw people all over the world experimenting with horseless carriages. Although it may be hard to pinpoint who exactly did it first, the consensus is that Karl Benz created the first proper internal combustion automobile in 1886 called the Benz Patent MotorWagen.
Using a one-cylinder engine, the three-wheel vehicle could transport two passengers and thus, the automobile was born.
Honorable Mention: Daimler-powered Wilhelm Wafter stagecoach
That same year, another German, Gottlieb Daimler, installed his internal combustion engine into a Wilhelm Wafter stagecoach and made what’s regarded as the first four-wheel automobile.
1890s – Duryea Motor Wagon
Although only 15 examples were built, the Duryea Motor Wagon was one of the first ever automobiles commercially sold in North America.
Using a four-hp one-cylinder gasoline engine, the Duryea was also the first automobile to win a race in America in 1896.
Honorable Mention: Stanley Steemer and Pope Electric Vehicles
At the dawn of the automobile industry, many different sources for propulsion and fuel were experimented with, including electricity and steam.
The Stanley Steemer and Pope Electrics could have completely changed the history of the automobile industry as we know it had they been more successful.
1900s – Oldsmobile Curved Dash
The Oldsmobile Curved Dash is thought by many to be the first mass-produced automobile. For many years, the Curved Dash outsold every other automobile by a good amount, only to be overtaken by the Model T at the end of the decade.
Using a mid-mounted one-cylinder engine, the Curved Dash produced five horsepower and had two forward gears.
Honorable Mention: Locomobile Steam Cars
Before the Oldsmobile Curved Dash took over the sales crown, the Locomobile was the best-selling car in America to begin the decade.
Powered by a two-cylinder steam engine, early cars were unreliable and had limited range. That didn’t stop Locomobile, which sold 4,000 of these steam buggies before switching over to internal combustion engines.