The Steam Powered Automobile

Steam powered carriages and automobiles might seem like something straight from a Steampunk novel, but we actually have a long though somewhat mixed record of successful attempts at building a steam powered motor vehicle. For the entire historical breakdown, check out this article.

One of the first attempts at a steam powered automobile was the 1802 Trevithick Steam Carriage. This fully operational machine was built in an effort to address the increasing difficulty of keeping horses in rapidly industrializing urban centers where is was more attractive to use arable land to support a booming population.

Although the thing did work, the carriage was far more expensive to construct and operate than the traditional horse drawn carriages. The first model also came to a rather tragic end as it set fire to the shed it was in and was destroyed while Trevithick and Co. were in a pub celebrating the carriage’s successful first run. Bummer.

So while the technological capabilities for a steam driven automobile in the Victorian period was theoretically possible, it was largely impractical and expensive to actually execute. Steam power was largely regulated to the vehicles that could manage the large steam engine: boats and trains. Other models beyond the 1802 Trevithick Steam Carriage were attempted and even encountered some degree of success, like this 1899 Locomobile Steam Car.