History of Automobiles and Early Transmissions


Traction Drives, notes from and comments on


The following is a review on Heinlich and Shube, "Traction Drives" [1], with additional notes from elsewhere. In contrast to the book, this review focuses on the automotive viewpoint.


The book covers the history of continuously variable transmissions (CVTs), particularly of the traction variety, up until its publication date (1983). It focuses mainly on industrial traction drives, particularly in the Loads and Applications sections, however there is a wealth of detail on the history of automotive traction and friction drives. This section (chap 2) was written by Robert Carson.


One of the pioneers of CVT design, Charles E. Krauss, wrote the sections (chaps 5 and 6) on Traction and Contact Area Analysis. Another pioneer, Jean E. Kopp, contributed many of the applications.


Chapter 1 - Introduction

In the context of transmissions, the term traction does not refer to their application (pulling loads), but to the nature of the interface between input, intermediate and output torque transmitting surfaces. Thus torque is transmitted through the drive via traction between smooth surfaces via a traction fluid. Dry transmissions relying on friction between smooth surfaces are known as friction drives. In both types, no gears are used.


In order for the fluid to provide the necessary shear force in a traction drive, rather than slipping (as in a bearing), a very high pressure is required (several thousand atmospheres) on the fluid film between the mating metal surfaces.


In addition, by varying the configuration of the components, a variable input/output speed ratio is required. Heinlich and Shube recognise 20 different ways of accomplishing this, and in chapter 3 describe how the ratio change is provided in 30 different drives.


They note that (as of the writing of the book in 1983) no CVTs have proved practical for automotive transmissions. [However 310,000 CVTs were mass produced in Japan for the home market in 2000, and the production volume continues to grow there and elsewhere in the world  [3].]


Appendix A lists suppliers of 12 of the drive types described in chapter 3, some 37 or so suppliers (as of 1983). Appendix B provides a bibliography of technical papers on CVTs, some 162 papers.


Chapter 2 - History


Early cars in Europe

Bottorff [9] describes some of the early automobiles, including the first designed by Guido da Vigevano, in Italy in 1335 - powered by a windmill with a geared transmission. Leonardo da Vinci designed a clockwork driven tricycle with tiller stearing and a differential between the rear wheels [9].


Father Ferdinand Verbiest is said to have built a steam powered vehicle for the Chinese Emporer Chien Lung in about 1678[9].  In 1680, Dutch physicist Christian Huygens designed, but never built, an internal combustion (IC) engine that was fuelled with gunpowder [10]. James Watt invented the steam engine in 1705, and Stephenson built his Rocket in 1829.


In 1769, Nicolas Cugnot designed a 3-wheeled steam powered road-vehicle, which was built by M. Brezin at the Paris Arsenal. It was intended to be used to pull canons. A second unit built in 1770, carried four passengers, weighed 8000 pounds and attained a top speed of 2 mph on the cobbled streets of Paris. This second vehicle, in 1771, hit and knocked down a stone wall - the world's first motor accident [9], [11], [12].


Cugnot's vehicle was improved by Onesiphore Pecqueur, also a Frenchman, who also invented the first differential [11].


In 1801, Richard Trevithick built a steam-powered road carriage, the first in Great Britain [11]. Another source says this was in 1803 [27].


In 1807, Issac de Rivaz, in Switzerland, designed a coal gas (i.e. hydrogen and oxygen) driven IC engine. He had previously designed several successful steam-run cars in the late 18th century [12].


In Britaiin, from 1820 to 1840, steam-powered stagecoaches were in regular service, until they were banned. Steam-driven road tractors (built by Charles Deitz) pulled passenger cars around Paris and Bordeaux up to 1850 [11].


During this period (mid-1800s) in England, there was stiff opposition from the rail-roads and from horse-driven coaches to the development of heavy steam driven vehicles, and a flurry of restrictive legislation, such as the Red Flag Act in 1865, was passed which discouraged further development [9][12].


The Bordino steam carriage was produced in 1854. The origin of the term chauffeur came from his original function to sit at the back and stoke the boiler [26].


Etienne Lenoir of Belgium patented the first practical gas engine in Paris in 1860. The two-stroke engine had a bore of 5", a stroke of 24", and developed 0.5 hp at 100 rpm.  It used a separate mechanism to compress the gas [9][12]. The gas was ignited by a spark from a Ruhmkorff induction coil halfway through the stroke [26]. In 1862, he built a car using this engine, which achieved a speed of 3km/h. By 1865, around 500 of these engines were in use in Paris [9][12].


In 1862, French civil engineer Alphonse Beau de Rochas figured out how to compress the gas in the same cylinder in which it was to burn. Hence was born what is now known as the Otto cycle or four-stroke engine [9][10]. Bottorff [9] says de Rochas neglected to patent his idea. Reference [10] (anonymous) gives the exact date and number of his patent for the design. [26] also refers to a de Rochas patent.


In 1864, Austrian engineer Siegfried Marcus of Mecklenburg built a one-cylinder gasolene powered engine with a crude carburettor. Lenoir also claimed to have run one of his cars on benzine (a petroleum product) before this, and to have used electric spark ignition. Marcus built a car with his engine in 1868, and showed one at the Vienna Exhibition of 1873. His Strassenwagen had about 0.75hp at 500 rpm [9][10].


In 1866, Eugen Langen and Nikolaus August Otto improved on Lenoir's and de Rochas' designs and invented a more efficient gas engine. Gottlieb Daimler joined them in 1872, stayed for 10 years, and designed the first practical four-stroke engine [10][13].


In 1876, Nikolas Otto patented the Otto cycle engine, but Daimler and Benz later succeeded in breaking the patent by claiming de Rochas' prior art [9].


From 1873 to 1883, Amedee Bollee Sr built advanced steam cars, including "La Mancelle" (1878) [11].


Daimler became interested in replacing the coal gas in Otto's engine with petrol, and this interest provoked his employers (Langen and Otto) to banish him from their factory in St Petersburg and instigated Daimler's resignation in 1882. Daimler took with him Otto's chief draughtsman Wilhelm Mayback, and the two friends set up a factory at Cannstatt. [26].


In 1884, an Englishman, Edward Butler, obtained a patent for "the mechanical propulsion of cycles".


In 1882 [26] or 1884  [30] [35], an Italian, Professor Enrico Bernardi, at Padua University, built a small internal combustion engine which was first demonstrated powering a sewing machine .


In 1884, Professor Bernardi built what was claimed to be the world's first "car" [26]. Italian Automotive Chronology [31] describes the 1884 vehicle as merely the first Italian gasolene car.  Another source says that in 1884, Bernardi's first IC vehicle appeared on the streets of Verona [32].


This first "car" may have just been a motorised tricycle. In 1884 he used his small sewing machine engine to power his son's tricycle [26].


In 1885 Bernardi built his "Lauro" engine [31].


In 1889, Bernardi started building larger engines [30] [35]. One engine built in 1889 had the following innovations: 1) detachable head, 2) overhead valves actuated by a camshaft and rockers, 3) centrifugal governor on the inlet valve, 4) a constant level carburettor with a float and hand control, 5) filters for air and gas, 6) automatic lubrication of moving parts, 7) cooling by water circulation, 8) a tubular radiator, 9) a silencer, and 10) roller bearings for the transmission and wheel hubs [32].


Between 1892 and 1893, Bernardi built two motorized vehicles, one with two wheels and one with three [32].


In 1893, Bernardi built what was described as a motorized tricycle [31].


In 1894, Bernardi built a "motorcycle", in which his cyclemotor was mounted on a one-wheel trailer, and powered a normal bicycle via a chain drive. His son, Lauro, drove the machine on Italian roads [30]. This may or may not have been the vehicle described as a "3-wheeler car", with a 624cc four-stroke engine, which was introduced in 1894 [35]. He demonstrated an improved car in 1894 which achieved 15mph [32].




Also in 1884, an Italian, Enrico Bernardi, at Padua University, built what was claimed to be the world's first "car" [26]


A small version of the engine was first demonstrated in 1882 powering a sewing machine [26], and then in 1884 to power his son's tricycle [26].


Another version of the story says that the sewing machine engine was exhibited in 1884 [30], and that in 1889 he started work on a larger engine, producing his motorcycle five years later. The cyclemotor was mounted on a one-wheel trailer, and powered a normal bicycle via a chain drive. His son, Lauro, drove the machine on Italian roads [30].


An Italian Automotive Chronology [31] gives 1884 as Bernardi building the first Italian gasolene car [31] , 1885 as him building the "Lauro" engine [31] and 1893 as him building the motorized tricycle [31] 3wheelers.com says that Bernardi produced his small sewing machine engine in 1884[35], and started to build larger engines in 1889[35].


His 3-wheeler car, with a 624cc four-stroke engine, was introduced in 1894 [35].


Another source says that in 1884, Bernardi's first IC vehicle appeared on the streets of Verona [32].


 A new engine built in 1889 had the following innovations: 1) detachable head, 2) overhead valves actuated by a camshaft and rockers, 3) centrifugal governor on the inlet valve, 4) a constant level carburettor with a float and hand control, 5) filters for air and gas, 6) automatic lubrication of moving parts, 7) cooling by water circulation, 8) a tubular radiator, 9) a silencer, and 10) roller bearings for the transmission and wheel hubs [32].


 He built two motorized vehicles, one with two wheels and one with three, between 1892 and '93. He demonstrated an improved car in 1894 which achieved 15mph [32].




Karl Benz was making two stroke engines for ten years because he thought that the Otto and Langen patent prevented him from making four stroke engines. As soon as this patent was broken, he started making small engines for cars. His first car was made in 1885 [26].


In August 1885, Karl Benz was driving his three-wheeled car around the Neckar valley. In 1888, Frau Benz drove the car 62 miles (the first long car trip) from Mannheim to Pforzheim to see her mother [9].


Daimler patented a high speed (700 rpm) petrol-fuelled four-stroke engine in 1885 which he installed in the world's first motor bike [26]. In November 1885, his son, Paul Daimler, rode the wooden motorcyle from Cannstatt to Unterturkeheim and back. The hot tube ignition system enabled the engine to get up to 1000 rpm [9].


In 1886 Daimler built a four-wheeled vehicle with a four speed gear box. He did not make another car until 1889. He also developed a more efficient carburettor [26].


In 1888, Butler had made a direct drive, two cylinder petrol engined three wheeled vehicle at Greenwich. In 1889, he introduced an atomising spray type carburettor (five years before Wilhelm Maybach's) [26].


By September 1888, William Steinway (of Steinway pianos) had obtained from Daimler the right to manufacture his engines in the US [9].


In 1888, the first road electric cars appeared in the US and in England. In London, Ratcliffe Ward began operating an electric omnibus. Within two years, a second bus was making a regular run between Charing Cross and Victoria Station [15].


In 1890, an Englishman, Frederick Lanchester, offered his car to the public. The engine used a single crankshaft, unlike the dual crankshafts generally used. The transmission used epicyclic gears [26].


The first car sold in Europe was in 1891 for 3,500 francs [26]. The first car was not sold in America until 1895.


In 1894, Le Petit Journal  sponsored a 78-mile car race from Paris to Rouen, and in 1895, the Automobile Club of France held the great Paris-Bordeaux race (727miles). Only steam and gasoline cars participated in these two events, and the latter asserted themselves convincingly [15].



Early Cars in America

Starting around 1770 in America, many people tried to make self powered vehicles. At this time, they were all steam powered [14]. In 1789, the first US patent for a steam powered land vehicle was granted to Oliver Evans [11].


In 1826, Samuel Morey, of Orford, NH, filed a patent for an internal combustion engine. His "explosive engine" as he called it, had a rudimentary carburetor. It used poppet valves operated by push rods and tappets with cams. It used an open flame for ignition. The explosion forced a piston down, which turned a crankshaft and flywheel. The fuel was turpentine. He later experimented with electric ignition, to do away with the open flame. This preceded Lenoir's gas engine by 36 years [16] [17].


In 1834, Thomas Davenport of Vermont built a model electric locomotive. In 1847, Moses Farmer of Massachusetts designed an electric locomotive that could carry two people on rails, and at about the same time, Charles Page of Washington built one that carried 12 people [15].


Numerous steam-powered road coaches were built in the US from 1860 to 1880 (Harrison Dyer, Joseph Dixon, Rufus Porter and William T James) [11].


Meanwhile in Europe, Lenoir's 1862 car was the first gas-powered car, and that of Marcus, in 1868, was the first gasolene-powered car.


In 1871, Dr J.W. Carhart and the J.I. Case Co built a working steam car that won a 200-mile race [11]. Another source says it was built in 1872 in Racine, WI, and was the first steam car driven on any highway in the US [22].


In 1873, George Brayton, an American engineer, developed an unsuccessful two-stroke kerosene engine (using external pumping cylinders), which was considered to be the first safe and practical oil engine [10]. "Art Of Invention" [27] says Brayton patented his engine in 1872. The Library of Congress says he also built a self-propelled vehicle [17].


The first car race in the world was in 1878 between two steam wagons that raced from Green Bay to Madison [22]. The winning car averaged 6 mph. (The Paris-Rouen race was in 1894).


In 1888, Philip Pratt of Boston built an electric tricycle. In 1890, William Morrison of Des Moines, built an electric car that could run for 13 hours at 14 mph [15].


An article in Leipzinger illustrierte Zeitschrift about the vehicles of Daimler and Benz, reprinted in Scientific American in January 5th, 1889 [19], started a flurry of attempts to build gasolene-powered cars in North America. There are conflicts in the literature as to exactly when each car was built. Gottfried Schloemer and Henry Nadig were amongst the first to build gasolene-powered cars.


Gottfried Schloemer's car, produced by Schloemer-Toepfer in Milwaukee [21], chugged along at 12 mph [18]. Instead of spark plugs, it used a system of two steel points, which when struck, produced a spark. These points were fragile, and had to be replaced every few miles [20]. Schloemer also manufactured his own carburettor [24]. A Schloemer car has been preserved in the Milwaukee Public Museum as "the first practical gasolene-powered auto in the nation" [21].


According to [18] and [22/23], Schloemer's vehicle was built in 1889. According to [20], it was built in 1890. According to [24], it was started in 1890, and finished in 1892.


Henry Nadig built his four wheeled car in Allentown, PA. According to Carol Nadig, her husband's great-grandfather, Henry Nadig (1843-1930), built his gasolene-powered automobile in 1889 [25]. According to [18], it was in the early 1890s. According to [1], [15] and [26], it was in 1891.


Ransom Eli Olds built his second steam car in 1890 [9]. The first was lost at sea, having been sold to a buyer in India.


In 1891, the Daimler Motor Company, owned by William Steinway, was producing petrol engines for tramway cars, carriages, quadricycles, fire engines and boats in a plant in Hartford, CT [9].


John Lambert built his first car in 1891 [1] [15]. It was gasolene-powered three-wheeler with a two-cylinder engine. It used a friction transmission which served as a combination clutch and variable speed drive. The friction disc was 18" in diameter. The Lambert was manufactured from 1891 to 1917 by the Buckeye Manufacturing Co. in Anderson, IN [1].


In 1893,  Charles and Frank Duryea built what they claimed to be the first American gasolene-powered automobile [17]. The Duryea used a 4 hp single cylinder gasolene engine, a friction transmission, spray carburetor and low tension ignition. It first ran in February 1893, and made its first run on public roads in September 1893 in Springfield, MA. According to Carson [1], the Duryeas "operated their first car" in 1892. They later changed from a friction drive to a two-speed constant mesh transmission [1]. Thirteen Duryeas of the same design were produced in 1896, making it the first production car [9].


However the first car sale was in 1895, when A.W. Ballard, of Oshkosh, made a car to order for a physician living in Wausau, WI [22].


Car production in the USA was held up by a patent granted to George B. Seldon in November 1895 for a vehicle known as a Road Engine. The patent was filed in 1879, and took 16 years to be granted due to the intentional delaying tactics of Seldon (a patent lawyer). He was delaying it so that it would be effective during the anticipated peak car production years to come. The patent identifies George Brayton's 2-cycle engine as a component of the Road Engine. (Brayton patented his engine in 1872). Seldon improved Brayton's engine, and was able to produce 2 hp from a 370 lb engine. Seldon made money not by building cars but by granting licences to others, including the Duryeas but not to Ford [27].


Henry Ford had an engine running by 1893, but it was 1896 before he built and sold his first car [9]. Ford has his problems with the Seldon patent, but went on building cars anyway [27].


On Thanksgiving Day in 1895 (the year of the 727 mile French race), the Chicago Times-Herald  sponsored a 54 mile race from Chicag to Evanston and back, in which there were 70 entries, but only two cars finished - the gasoline-powered car of the Duryea brothers and that of H. Mueller and Co. [15] [28].


The first closed circuit automobile race (mostly Duryeas) was held at Narragansett Park, RI, in September 1896 [9].


Ransom Eli Olds had his first petrol powered car running by 1896, and in production by 1899. He had produced a number of electric cars around the turn of the century. (In 1899 and 1900, electrics outsold all other types of car) [9].  He introduced the Curved Dash Olds in 1901, and built 425 of them that year, making them the first mass produced gasolene engine autos in the world. Olds was also the first to introduce (by necessity because of a factory fire) the supplier/sub-contractor system which is now standard [29]. His cars had two-speed planetary transmissions with brake bands [9]. The Curved Dash Olds had a single cylinder 95 cu in 4.5hp engine. It sold for $650 [28].  He built a total of 18,933 of them over a seven year production life [28]. Another source [9] says he sold 600 Curved Dash Olds in 1901, 2500 in 1902, 4000 in 1903, and 5000 in 1904 when he left the Olds Motor Vehicle  Co in Detroit.


Charles King introduced the first car with a four cylinder engine in March 1896 in Detroit. It achieved a top speed of 5 mph.  Henry Ford built his 1896 Quadricycle  in June, from parts borrowed from King [28].


Steam cars had been built in America since before the Civil War (1861-1865) [9].  IC engines must be used with a variable ratio transmission of some sort, due to their lack of power at low engine speeds. By contrast, steam and electric cars develop their maximum torque at stall. Steam cars were also fast. In 1907, the Stanley Steamer held the world speed record of 197mph [1].


Friction drive cars were popular from 1891 (Lambert) until World War I. In the Lambert, the transmission consisted of a friction wheel pressed against the back of the flywheel by a pedal, thus combining the function of a clutch. When this pressure was released, the friction wheel could be moved across the flywheel to provide a different ratio and reverse.


Other early transmissions used in gasolene-powered cars included the two-speed constant mesh transmission of the Duryeas, the variable-pitch pulleys used in the 1896 Reeves, the belt and idler drive used in Ford's Quadricycle, and the two-speed planetary transmission with brake bands offered by R.E. Olds [1].


Chapter 9 - Characteristics of Loads

No automotive loads are mentioned in this chapter, however they do mention that both fans and centrifugal pumps present a torque that is proportional to the square of the speed, so that the power input is proportional to speed cubed.


Fan speed depends on the aerodynamic drag on the fan blades by the air. Norman McKay points out that automobile speed depends almost entirely on engine power and aerodynamic drag, the latter being proportional to car velocity squared.


Heinlich and Shube point out that loads with active control or feedback present loads, such as constant torque, that is far different than their open-loop characteristics.



[1] Frederick W. Heinlich III and Eugene E. Shube, "Traction Drives, selection and application", New York: Marcel Dekker, 1983; OOU: TJ1095.H44, 1983. [Robert Carson wrote chapter 2 on the history of automobiles.]

[2] Charles E. Krauss, "Rolling Traction Analysis and Design", privately published.

[3]  The Future for European Transmission Development,  08/07/2002,  http://www.automotive-online.com/data_analysis/details.asp?sectcode=DA&storyid=9826

[4] R.W Carson, "Continuously Variable Transmissions for Automobiles", unpublished manuscript prepared for Monsanto, St Louis, 1977.

[5] J.E. Holmes, "Self Propelled Vehicles, a Practical Treatise on the Theory, Construction, Operation, Care, and Management of All Forms of Automobiles", NY: Theodore Audel & Co., 1910.

[6] L Scott Bailey et al,"The American Car Since 1775", an Automobile Quarterly Library series book; NY: Automobile Quarterly Inc, 1971

[7] G.N. Georgano, "Complete Encyclopedia of Motor Cars - 1885 to the Present", Rev. Ed.;  NY: E.P. Dutton & Co Inc, 1973.

[8] D.F Caris and R.A. Richardson, "Engine - Transmission Relationships for High Efficiency", SAE Trans., v61 (1953), p.83.

[9] William W. Bottorff, "What Was the First Car? - a quick history of the automobile for young people", http://www.ausbcomp.com/~bbott/cars/carhist.htm

[10] "The History of the Automobile, the internal combustion engine and early gas-powered cars", http://inventors.about.com/library/weekly/aacarsgasa.htm

[11] Mary Bellis,  "The History of the Automobile, early steam powered automobiles", http://inventors.about.com/library/weekly/aacarssteama.htm

[12] "Trivia, Car History, Early Cars", http://www.cybersteering.com/trimain/history/ecars.html

[13] "Trivia, Car History, the First Modern Cars", http://www.cybersteering.com/trimain/history/fcars.html

[14] Smithsonian Institute, "Encyclopedia Smithsonian, Early Cars", http://www.si.edu/resource/faq/nmah/earlycars.htm

[15] Paul A. Hughes, "A History of Early Electric Cars", http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Crete/6111/electcar.htm

[16] Stephen M. Lawson, "Samuel Morey, Inventor Extraordinary", http://kinnexions.com/smlsource/samuel.htm Includes: Alice Doan Hodgson, "Samuel Morey, Inventor Extraordinary of Orford, New Hampshire", 1961

[17] Library of Congress, "American Memory, Today in History, November 28", http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/today/nov28.html

[18] "German Influence on the US Automobile Industry", http://www.serve.com/shea/germusa/germauto.htm

[19] Reprint of article in Leipzinger illustrierte Zeitschrift about the vehicles of Daimler and Benz, in Scientific American, January 5th, 1889.

[20] "Wisconsin Then and Now", v.XXI, No.8, p.15, quoted in http://www.bytehead.com/~kautzer/breckheimer_am.html

[21] "Tales and Trails", Wisconsin, Spring 1970, quoted in http://www.bytehead.com/~kautzer/breckheimer_am.html

[22] Wisconsin, Erstwhile Auto Capital, quoted from [23], http://www.sensato.com/1921/01wiscon.htm

[23] Floyd Clymer, "Treasury of Early American Automobiles, 1877-1925", New York:McGraw-Hill, 1950

[24] Dr Iain Corness, "Auto Mania", http://www.pattayamail.com/342/columns.htm

[25] Carol Nadig, "Charles Henry Nadig (1808-1860)", Ancestry Message Boards,  http://boards.ancestry.com/mbexec/message/an/surnames.nadig/1 

[26] "History of the Motor Car",or "Cars, In the Beginning",


[27] "The Automobile Road Engine patent of George Seldon",  http://artofinvention.tripod.com/Automobile-SeldonStory.htm

[28] "The Early Years of the Gasolene Automobile 1896-1901", AutoMuseum, http://www.automuseum.com/History.html

[29] "Curved Dash Olds", http://encyclopedia.classicoldsmobile.com/curvedash.html

[30] "Bernardi's Cyclemotor", June 1982, http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~pattle/nacc/arc0127.htm

[31] "Italian Automotive Chronology, from the origins to 1900", http://www.polito.it/centri/cemed/Chronogoes/___-1900.htm

[32] UIUC Image Database, "Bernardi Automobile", (quoting [33] and [34] as sources), http://images.library.uiuc.edu/projects/dchc/meta/intermediate_view.asp?ID=2030430137

[33] Enrica Aceti and Kevin Brazendale (eds), "Classic Cars: Fifty Years of the World's Finest Automobile Design", NY: Exeter Books, 1978.

[34] Marco Matteucci, "History of the Motor Car", Turin, Italy: Octopus Books, 1979.

[35] "Miari E. Gusti", http://www.3wheelers.com/miari.html