At a time when the automobile industry is being challenged with supply shortages, high demand, and skyrocketing prices, this month reminds us that this isn't the first challenge the "automative" industry has had to overcome. While the history of automobiles is deep and rich with many notable moments, there are only a few that compare to Henry Ford‘s quadricycle. At approximately 4:00 a.m. on June 4th, 1896, in the shed behind his home on Bagley Avenue in Detroit, Henry Ford unveiled the “Quadricycle,” the very first automobile that he designed and drove.
While today, we take driving around in our cars for granted, in 1896, most people still got around using horses and carriages, and the idea of a "gas" engine was frowned up by many including Ford's eventual employer.
Gas vs. Electric 1986 edition
Before the Quadricycle, Ford was working as the chief engineer for the main plant of the Edison Illuminating Company. He was on-call at all hours to ensure that Detroit had electrical service 24 hours a day, and during his free time, Ford used his flexible working schedule to experiment with his pet project—building a horseless carriage with a gasoline-powered engine.
His desire to work with gasoline engines begun when he saw an article in the American Machinist magazine in 1895. The following March 1896, another Detroit engineer named Charles King took his own hand-built vehicle—made of wood, it had a four-cylinder electric engine and could go as far as five miles per hour—out for a ride. For Ford, this was all he needed and it helped push him to build a lighter and faster gasoline-powered model.
Introducing the Quadricycle
After a few months, Ford was ready to test-drive his creation. While it wasn't a "car" in the way that we think of them today, his creation was a light metal frame fitted with four bicycle wheels and powered by a two-cylinder, four-horsepower gasoline engine.
Early in the morning on June 4, 1896, Ford and his Chief Assistant James Bishop took the Quadricycle out for its maiden voyage. With Bishop bicycling ahead to alert passing carriages and pedestrians, Ford drove the 500-pound Quadricycle down Detroit’s Grand River Avenue, circling around three major thoroughfares. The Quadricycle had two driving speeds, no reverse, no brakes, rudimentary steering ability, and a doorbell button as a horn, and it could reach about 20 miles per hour, easily overpowering King’s earlier invention. Ford's first drive wasn't without fault, but many people didn't realize that the success of his first drive set the wheels in motion to Ford creating the automobile industry and becoming one of the most formidable success stories in American business history.