Nicholas Otto and the Road to Modern Transportation

The question is frequently asked, who invented the first car? Henry Ford? Gottlieb Wilhelm Daimler? Karl Friedrich Benz? Maybe even as far back as Leonardo da Vinci?

Actually, this is a tougher question than it would seem. Many would argue it was Benz, but the answer hinges in part on what your definition of a “true” car actually is. Regardless of how you answer this question, you cannot overlook the contribution of Nicholas Otto, who was issued a patent for an internal combustion engine that contains the basic principles of the engines used even today. Amazingly, his patent was issued all the way back in May of 1876. After some confusion over the legitimacy of this patent, he, along with Francis and William Crossley, were reissued the patent on October 23, 1877 (Patent # 365,701).

The key to Otto’s invention was devising one small enough to make a car feasible. Previous steam engines that had been created were much too large to be practical for an automobile. After Otto’s invention, there was a frenzy to create the first practical and reliable automobile, thus setting the stage for modern forms of transportation.

So, why does everyone remember Ford, Chrysler and Benz and not Otto? One reason is that the first three created actual cars, while Otto only came up with a component to make the car possible. However, as with many inventions, this was THE key piece that allowed for the technological revolution that followed, and still Otto is largely forgotten. With US Patent Services, we have many products that will help you recognize those who have been key contributors to your patent development but may be doing it outside of the spotlight. Visit our website store to find ways to honor these key members of your team.