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Automobile history: Firsts in automotive history

Posted by mandyf on January 17, 2012

While many car enthusiasts can rattle off any number of facts about the first occurrence of their favorite model, a designers first entry into the industry, or the first of many options to appear on a vehicle, there are many other firsts people rarely if ever consider. How many people know who the first woman driver was? What about the history of the first cab or police car? There are many firsts surrounding automobiles that have long gone overlooked which we never consider today because they are so novel. Read on to find out about what they are.

The first woman driver was Madame Levassor of Paris, France. Madame Levassor is better known by her former name of Madame Sarazin. From her first husband she acquired the Belgian and French rights to to manufacture the gas powered Daimler engine. It was however when she married Lavassor the following year and merged her rights with his company that they began making cars and she was determined to not just have one but drive one. In 1891 she began taking driving lessons and was photographed operating an auto the following year. While many may argue someone else had to be first besides her. and they may be correct, she is the first woman documented as driving a vehicle.

Staying in Paris, we can now examine the first recorded car theft, which is something most people assume or joke had to happen in Detroit. In June of 1896 a Pugeot owned by Baron de Zuylen was stolen from the garage by his mechanic while it was under repair. Of course the mechanic was easily caught because any automobile drew attention at that time, and a half repaired auto that conked out during its heist draws even more. It is safe to assume he baron looked for a new mechanic after that although that detail was never recorded.

In 1899 a car was first used in police work, making it the first police car, by Sgt, McLeod of Northamptonshire England. In an official capacity he borrowed a Mercedes Benz to chase down a man selling forged tickets to the Barnum and Bailey Circus. The top speed reached during the chase was a blistering 12 mph. The first car commissioned exclusively for police work however was a Stanley Steamer purchased by the Boston Police Department to replace four aging horses set for retirement in 1903.

The first taxicab actually came in a pair. In 1896 Droschkeinbesitzer Dutz from Stuttgart purchased two Benz-Kraftdroschkes for a total of 16,000 marks for the sole purpose of conveying people for a fee. Of course the idea caught on in a hurry and he had a competitor in under a year that blew him out of the water named Freidrich Greiner. Many argue that Greiner had the first actual taxicab because unlike Dutz, he had his outfitted with meters making them a true taxicab.

The first installed car radio was in the passenger door of a Ford Model-T in 1922. Eighteen year old George Frost who was the president of his schools radio club in Chicago Illinois hold the honor for this first. Again this is something many people argue couldn’t possibly be a first, but the distinction they say is that the radio Frost installed was actually a fixed part of the vehicle, not something which was temporarily added to the vehicle and then removed later. It all comes down to the semantics as they say.

Finally the first documented automobile related fatality was Mrs. Bridget Driscoll on August 17, 1896. While at Crystal Palace in London, Mrs. Driscoll was run over by a car, fracturing her skull, driven by Arthur Estell who worked for the Anglo-French Motor Company. The report states that Mrs. Driscoll became panicked by other vehicles on the road and that Estell couldn’t see her because those same vehicles blocked his line of vision. The speed at impact was 4 mph, and the court ruled it an accidental death.

Those are a few of the forgotten firsts in automobile history. Some are amusing, one is tragic, but they all hold a place in the record books. Some dispute the validity of these claims, but none seem to be able to document anything that changes the record. However you view them is up to you, but at least you have a little more background about the early days of the automobile.


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