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1890s

Although not yet marketed to the general public, motorized vehicles were being produced for purchase in the 1890s. Only the wealthy could afford these hand-crafted curiosities, which were seemingly more of a novelty than a practical invention. The first automobile in Vermont, a Stanley Steamer, was purchased in 1896 by Dr. Lindsley of Burlington. These primitive automobiles closely resembled the horse-drawn carriages they replaced; essentially, they were carriages fitted with motors. Many of the early automobiles ran on steam, and some were even electric. The Duryea Brothers of Springfield, Massachusetts, developed the first gasoline powered car, fitting a one-cylinder gasoline engine into an old carriage. The engines in these early automobiles were located in the rear, beneath the seat. Steering wheels did not appear until the next decade. Rather, a tiller, the narrow stick protruding from the front of the vehicle, was used. Tires were narrow and wheels were often large.

The images below are exemplary of the automobiles being produced in the 1890s. As you can see, steering wheels, dashboards, and windshields were not yet in use, and the engine was in the rear.

1890s Auto 1890s Auto

1890s Automobiles: Image courtesy of Philip Van Doren Stern, A Pictorial History of the Automobile, 1953.

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