Saturday, September 30, 2006

Gentlemen, start your steam engines...

The antiquated looking machine pictured above was invented by the French Artillery Officer Joseph Cugnot in 1769. It is considered by many to be the world’s first self-powered vehicle or “automobile”.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Mr. Cugnot is also credited with the world’s first automobile accident since his steam powered vehicle, moving at a mind blowing two miles per hour, crashed into and demolished a stone wall on it’s maiden voyage.

Which of course raises the question what the hell kind of stone wall falls apart when it’s hit by something going at 2 miles per hour? If I ever go to France I’ll have to remember not to lean against any old buildings.

Anyway, Cugnot was undeterred and spent the next year building an even larger version for the French War Ministry. Since the name of this blog includes the word “drive” in it, I feel it behooves me to try to recreate those moments when Cugnot demonstrated his "new set of wheels” on a street in Paris:

(Two generals, one very old and a magistrate are standing with Cugnot in front of his vehicle)

Cugnot: Gentlemen, I thank you for this opportunity. Prepare to be amazed as I start my machine and proceed to move five tons at a speed of nearly four miles per hour.

Old general: Sacrebleu! Is it possible? Can humans even survive such speeds?

Young general: What are you talking about? Your own horse can go faster than that.

Old general: My Fou-Fou ? I can assure you sir that my horse has never run away from anything in his life. You had best watch your tongue or I’ll have to insist on a duel of honor.

Magistrate: Enough nonsense, let us proceed. I have two beheadings and a hanging to preside over and I don’t want to be late.

(Cugnot starts up his vehicle, which roars to life and starts to pull it’s heavy load. The distinguished onlookers gaze intently as it slowly moves to the end of the cobblestone street, only to see it crash on to it’s side as it attempts to turn the corner.)

Old general: I’m the first to admit that I’m not up to snuff on all this new technology, but I must say that I’ll be damned if I can see how that can be of any use.

Young general: Well, at least the walls of Paris are still standing.

(The magistrate summons the gendarmes)

Magistrate: Arrest that man and impound that…that...“vehicle!”

And so off to jail went poor Mr. Cugnot, making him the first person to be arrested for being a reckless motorist. So the next time you’re involved in a little fender bender or even a twelve car pile up, take a moment to think of this forgotten hero of French engineering history.


Dan said...

Thanks for this most excellent history lesson. I found Cugnot's family tree online -- not the one he smashed into repeatedly, but the one showing his descendents, and their descendents and so on.

Not surprisingly, Billy Joel is one of the few descendents still alive (all the others probably died in car accidents).

By the way, looks like Parisian drivers have come a long way since Cugnot's time. See here.

The Drive-by Blogger said...

That was some driving indeed! If there's an after life, I'm sure Cugnot is smiling from above...or maybe from down below...I can't personally vouch for his character.

Paul "FooDaddy" Brand said...

I got pulled over recently for making a flagrant left turn on a red light. I considered playing stupid, got halfway through, and switched to honesty.

"Did you see the light"
"The red one. Did you think it was flashing or something?"
"Are you in a hurry?"
"Not particularly. I did that on purpose, and you caught me. Lesson learned."
"Had anything to drink tonight?"

At least I didn't hit anything this time.

Bernie said...

I think your picture shows the 1-seater GT model with optional steering crank holder. I can’t tell from the picture if the owner sprang for the optional brakes (they became standard on the 1771 model).

The Drive-by Blogger said...

I just wonder if the vehicle had been a success, how long it would have taken before someone had the idea to paint flames on it.

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