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January In Automotive History


Edsel takes father´s job

Edsel Ford succeeded his father, Henry Ford, as president of the Ford Motor Company. That same day, the company announced that it would increase its minimum wage to $6.00 per day. Henry Ford made history in 1914 by increasing the minimum wage in his factories to $5.00 per day, far more than his competitors were paying.


Chrysler´s Neon hits the road

The Chrysler Corporation introduced the Neon compact car on this day. The Neon, a sporty plastic-bodied economy car, quickly became a popular car, particularly among young drivers.


Newspaper makes first reference to "automobile"

An editorial in the The New York Times made a reference to an "automobile" on this day. It was the first known use of the word.


New Packards roll out

The 1955 Packards were introduced to the public on this day. Corvettes and Thunderbirds were upping the horsepower ante, and Packard struck back with the Packard Caribbean, the first V-8 Packard and the debut of highly stylized cathedral taillights. The era of the mighty tailfin was beginning.


Olds moves on

Ransom Eli Olds retired from Olds Motor Works on this day. Olds had founded the company in 1899 with financial help from Samuel L. Smith, a lumber tycoon. Olds made the most profitable car in the early 1900s, the tiller-steered Oldsmobile Runabout. In 1904, Olds was approached by his head of engineering, Henry Leland, who had designed a lighter, more powerful engine that could improve the Runabout dramatically. Olds refused to use the new engine, to the dismay of his backer, Samuel Smith. Smith forced Ransom Olds out of the company. Olds went on to found the Reo Motor Car Company, and Oldsmobile went on without him. Henry Leland, the clever engineer, took his motor elsewhere: it powered the world´s first Cadillac.


Hitler´s car for sale

A Mercedes-Benz 770K sedan, supposedly Adolf Hitler´s parade car, was sold at auction for $153,000.00, the most money ever paid for a car at auction at that time.


General Motors creates Saturn

GM launched the Saturn Corporation as a wholly owned but independent subsidiary. The Saturn, a sporty and affordable plastic-bodied two-door, has since met with considerable success. A new mid-sized Saturn sedan and a station wagon was released in 1999.


Bugatti brother ends own life

Rembrandt Bugatti, brother of race-car maker Ettore Bugatti, committed suicide on this day. The Bugatti brothers were a talented crew: Carlo Bugatti was a noted furniture designer. Ettore, a self-taught engineer, produced some of the world´s most striking early race cars. Rembrandt Bugatti was a sculptor noted for his depictions of wild animals.


Selden patent thrown out

In 1895, George Selden was awarded the first American patent for an internal-combustion automobile, although Selden hadn´t yet produced a working model. Other inventors, such as Ransom Olds and the Duryea brothers, were already driving their home-built automobiles through the streets. Beginning in 1903, however, the Selden patent began to make itself felt. The Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers (A.L.A.M.) was organized to gather royalties on the Selden patent from all auto makers. Soon, every major automobile manufacturer was paying royalties to the A.L.A.M. and George Selden--except for one major standout, a young inventor named Henry Ford. Ford refused to pay royalties. The A.L.A.M launched a series of lawsuits against Ford. On this day in 1911, the United States Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Ford Motor Company was not infringing on the Selden patent. It was the beginning of the end for the A.L.A.M. and Selden´s royalties.


Texans strike oil

In the town of Beaumont, Texas, a 100-foot drilling derrick named Spindletop produced a roaring gusher of black crude oil. The oil strike took place at 10:30 a.m. on this day in 1901, coating the landscape for hundreds of feet around in sticky oil. The first major oil discovery in the United States, the Spindletop gusher marked the beginning of the American oil industry. Soon the prices of petroleum-based fuels fell, and gasoline became an increasingly practical power source. Without Spindletop, internal combustion might never have replaced steam and battery power as the automobile power plant of choice, and the American automobile industry might not have changed the face of America with such staggering speed. English inventor R.W. Thompson received a British patent for his new carriage wheels, which had inflated tubes of heavy rubber stretched around their rims--the world´s first pneumatic tires. They became popular on horse-drawn carriages, and later prevented the first motorcar passengers from being shaken to pieces.


World´s first hardtop is introduced

The world´s first closed production car was introduced: Hudson Motor Car Company´s Model 54 sedan. Earlier automobiles had open cabs, or at most convertible roofs.


Ford completes commercial vehicle

The Detroit Automobile Company finished its first commercial vehicle, a delivery wagon. The wagon was designed by a young engineer named Henry Ford, who had produced his own first motorcar, the quadricycle, before joining the company. Ford soon quit the Detroit Automobile Company, frustrated with his employers, to start his own company.


First AMCMA auto show opens

The first automobile show of the American Motor Car Manufacturers Association (AMCMA) opened in New York City at the 69th Regiment Armory.


Hudson and Nash merge

The Hudson Motor Car Company merged with Nash-Kelvinator, an automaker formed in turn by the merger of the Nash automobile firm and the Kelvinator kitchen-appliance company. The new concern was called the American Motors Corporation.


Ford Foundation is established

Henry Ford established the Ford Foundation, a philanthropic organization, on this day. The foundation was set up partly to allow the Ford family to retain control of the Ford Motor Company after Henry Ford´s death, avoiding new inheritance laws. But its charitable works were very real. At its height, the Ford Foundation had assets of $4 billion. The foundation works to promote population control and to prevent famine; to promote the arts and educational media; and to work for peace and the protection of the environment.


Corvette introduced in New York

The Chevrolet Corvette was introduced as a show car at New York´s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The car became an American classic almost instantly. Its sporty fiberglass body didn´t look like anything else on the road. Although some car buffs criticized the sportscar for being underpowered, that didn´t stop Corvettes from speeding off the showroom floors.


New land speed record is set

Camille Jenatzy captured the land speed record in an electric car of his own design: 41.425mph at Acheres Park, France. On the same day, however, previous record holder Gaston Chasseloup-Laubat raised the record again, posting a speed of 43.690mph in an electric Jeantaud automobile. The feud wasn´t over yet. Jenatzy took the record again 10 days later, on January 27. Chasseloup-Laubat took it back on March 4, and Jenatzy reclaimed the record on April 29, the last time an electric car held the speed record. Until 1963, all other land-speed records were set by steam or internal-combustion power. In 1963, Craig Breedlove took the land-speed record in a jet-powered car, and all record-holding cars since then have been propelled by jet or rocket engines.


Bentley Motors founded

Bentley Motors was established in London, England. A manufacturer of sports cars and luxury automobiles, Bentley was acquired by Rolls-Royce in November, 1931. From that point forward, the Bentley line acquired more and more features of the Rolls-Royce, until the two makes became nearly indistinguishable.


GM announces billion-dollar expansion

General Motors announced a $1 billion plan to expand its automobile operation. GM, like other major auto makers, had deep pockets due to the postwar boom in car sales, though sales were slackening in 1953.


Kaiser cars unveiled

The first Kaiser-Frazer automobiles were introduced at New York´s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The Kaiser-Frazer Corporation was formed after World War II by industrialist Henry J. Kaiser and Joseph W. Frazer, president of the Graham-Paige Motor Company. They produced several successful cars, most notably the 1951 Kaiser two-door. In 1953, however, the company was renamed the Kaiser Motors Corporation, and soon abandoned the passenger car business in favor of manufacturing commercial and military vehicles.


Opel opens for business

In 1898, the five Opel brothers began converting the sewing machine and appliance factory of Adam Opel into an automobile works in Russelheim, Germany. On this day in 1899, they acquired the rights to the Lutzmann automobile, and began production. The Opel-Lutzmann was soon abandoned, and in 1902, Opel introduced its first original car, a 2-cylinder runabout. In the decades that followed, Opel became one of the premier forces in the European automobile industry, modernizing its factories relentlessly and adopting the continuous-motion assembly line before its European competitors. Today, Opel is a wholly owned subsidiary of General Motors. It produces about a quarter of all German cars, and exports heavily to South America and Africa.


Bridge to Florida Keys opens

Florida East Coast Railroad opened, running between Key West and the mainland. The railroad closed in 1935. Three years later, the roadway was paved, bringing automotive traffic to the Florida Keys for the first time.


“Exhaust horn” receives patent

The Aermore Manufacturing Company, a Chicago concern, received a patent for the Aermore Exhaust Horn, a multiple-pipe horn powered by engine exhaust that played a chord like a church organ.


New engine runs on fire, not water

French inventor Etienne Lenoir was issued a patent for the first successful internal-combustion engine. Lenoir´s engine was a converted steam engine that burned a mixture of coal gas and air. Its two-stroke action was simple but reliable--many of Lenoir´s engines were still working after 20 years of use. His first engines powered simple machines like pumps and bellows. However, in 1862, Lenoir built his first automobile powered by an internal-combustion engine--a vehicle capable of making a six-mile trip in two to three hours. It wasn´t a practical vehicle, but it was the beginning of the automobile industry.


Early automobile appears on stamp

The United States Postal Service issued a four-cent stamp commemorating the Dudgeon Steam Wagon, a steam-powered vehicle built in 1866 by steam pioneer Richard Dudgeon. Scottish-born Dudgeon completed his first steam wagon in 1857, and with the exception of its steering mechanism, the vehicle was essentially a steam locomotive, complete with a smokestack and exposed cylinders at the forward end of its boiler. The vehicle, capable of holding 10 passengers, was exhibited in New York City´s Crystal Palace, where it was destroyed in October of 1857 when the Palace was leveled by fire. In 1866, Dudgeon built a second steam-powered vehicle similar to his 1857 prototype. However, unlike the first, this vehicle survived and is currently on display at the Smithsonian Institute´s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. Artist Richard Schlecht commemorated Dudgeon´s creation in a 1991 U.S. stamp.


Wogglebug steams competition

American driver Fred Marriott set a new land speed record of 127.659mph in his steam-powered "Wogglebug" at Ormond Beach, Florida. It was the last time that a steam-powered vehicle would claim a new land speed record.


New land speed record set

Frenchman Camille Jenatzy captured the land-speed record (49.932 miles per hour) in a battery-powered automobile of his own design.


Rolls makes test run

The prototype of the Rolls-Royce Wraith made its first test run on this day. The first model of the postwar period was called the Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith, and it became the principal luxury sedan sold by Rolls-Royce in the decades following World War II.


Benz gets patent

Karl Benz received a patent for his "Motorwagen" on this day. The Motorwagen, a three-wheeled automobile powered by an internal-combustion engine, was the first practical internal-combustion vehicle ever constructed. It made its first test run in early 1885. Benz completed his first four-wheeled motorcar in 1893, and went on to build many successful racing cars. In 1926, his company, Benz and Co., merged with Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft to form Daimler-Benz, an industry giant that has remained a formidable auto maker to the present day.


Last pre-WWII cars roll off the line

The last pre-war automobiles produced by Chevrolet and DeSoto rolled off the assembly lines today. Wartime restrictions had shut down the commercial automobile industry almost completely, and auto manufacturers were racing to retool their factories for production of military gear.


First speed hill climb run

The final stage of the Marseille-Nice automobile race posed an unusual challenge: a steep slope that motorists had to climb at speed. It was the first speed hill climb in auto-racing history. The uphill dash was won by M. Pary in a steam-powered DeDion-Bouton automobile.

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