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Road transport

Early history of cars

A street scene in Paris in 1910A street scene in Paris in 1910 People used carts pulled by horses or other animals for more than 5000 years before the first self-propelled vehicles, steam-powered carriages, were built. The age of the car really started with the development of the internal combustion engine in the late 19th century. Early cars were difficult to operate and were individually hand-built, which made them very expensive. The introduction of cheap, mass-produced cars in the early 20th century quickly made motoring a popular activity.


Steam carriages

Early roads were used mainly by armies or traders who travelled on foot or on horseback. Later, horsedrawn carriages and bicycles also went by road. The first road vehicle that ran on its own power was built in 1769 by a Frenchman, Nicolas Cugnot.Nicolas Cugnot’s steam carriageNicolas Cugnot’s steam carriageThis steam-powered carriage could carry four people, but it moved so slowly it would have been quicker for them to walk. It was hard to steer, and had to stop for refuelling every quarter of an hour. Designed to pull heavy artillery guns, it caused the world’s first motor accident when it crashed into a wall at its top speed of 5 km/h (3 mph). Steam-powered vehicles called traction engines took the place of horses on farms from the 1850s. Cars driven by small steam engines were popular in the USA in the 1890s.

The world’s first speed limit was imposed in 1861 in the UK. Vehicles were forbidden to travel more than 16 km/h (10 mph) in towns.

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