Truth About Car's Origins Actually a Bit Murky

A number of news outlets have been focusing on a statement by President Obama in support of the automobile industry in his State of the Union Address: “I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it.” (One example is here.)

A number of them are citing the Library of Congress as having definitively asserted that the car was actually invented in Germany. As is often the case, the truth is sometimes more elusive than what one might think.

The media’s likely source for this Library of Congress factoid is from our “Everyday Mysteries” site, which presents history in an engaging Q&A format.

While the answer that is given regarding who invented the car is indeed “Karl Benz,” it is more accurate to say that “it depends on how you define an automobile.”

The webpage itself has this disclaimer right beneath the given answer: “This question does not have a straightforward answer.” It also includes this less-than-definitive statement: “If we had to give credit to one inventor, it would probably be Karl Benz from Germany. Many suggest that he created the first true automobile in 1885/1886.” (Emphasis added)

The page points out that self-propelled road vehicles powered by steam or electricity in France and Scotland predated Benz’ invention. It also credits Americans with having invented the first car to combine “an internal combustion engine with a carriage,” along with having set up the first company to manufacture and sell automobiles.

Stevie Wonder 'Sketches of a Life' Webcast Now Live!

Before you watch the Stevie Wonder concert last night at the White House in celebration of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song tonight on PBS (you will watch, won’t you?), you really need to see the celebrated artist kick it “classical style” in the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium. (The White House event was […]

Curtain Rises Tonight on Abraham Lincoln

Are you or any of your DC friends looking to make last-minute plans tonight? How about attending the public opening of “With Malice Toward None: The Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Exhibition” from 5 to 9 p.m. this evening? Details here, online exhibition here. Normal visitor hours resume tomorrow (Monday through Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) […]

How 'Big' Is the Library of Congress?

I want to preface this post by reiterating one of our general disclaimers up front, to wit: “This blog does not represent official Library of Congress communications.” Because this post will edge slightly closer to “editorializing” than most of my previous posts. Working in the Office of Communications as I do, I’m aware of the […]

Lincoln Photos Added to Library's Flickr Stream

The general webby reaction to our pilot project with Flickr, which launched “The Commons,” has been rather Oliver Twist-like: “More, please!” We started with thousands of Bain news photos from the 1910s and color images from the 1930s and 1940s (a project of the Farm Security Administration and the Office of War Information). For Veterans […]