Today in History – November 3, 1900 – first U.S. automobile show opens at Madison Square Garden, NYC. Columbia completed 1500 electric- and gasoline-powered vehicles in Hartford, Connecticut during the year and Locomobile of Bridgeport built 750 steamers, representing the top two most successful automobile companies at the time in terms of number of sales. Between 7000 and 10,000 people paid 50 cents apiece that first evening to see $565,000 worth of wares from 69 auto and accessory exhibitors.
Only four years previously the Duryea motor wagon had been demonstrated at the Garden as the star attraction of the Barnum & Bailey Circus. The Chicago Times-Herald sponsored America’s first automobile race just a few years earlier in 1895. Frank Duryea was the first to cross the finish line, averaging 7.3 miles per hour and taking home a prize of $2,000 ($49,500 in today’s money). Looking ahead, it would take Henry Ford’s development of mass production techniques in the automotive industry in 1913 to make the automobile affordable to the general population.
The National Academy of Engineering named the automobile as the 2nd greatest invention of the twentieth century. Through continuous improvement and the ingenious application of new technology, the automobile reconfirmed and updated its status as a triumph of engineering throughout the 20th century.
The challenge today is to make automobiles and their impact on the environment sustainable for future generations. Hybrids and automobiles using alternate fuels such as solar, biofuels or hydrogen are promising directions for research and development. The solar car, human powered vehicle and supermileage vehicle engineering student competitions at universities today help students develop integrative design and team skills, as well as provide engaging examples for the next generation of engineering students.