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.