Cars today are very common but about 200 years ago they were thought to be just some kind of crazy invention. The origin of the automobile can be traced back to Europe, but it became a major form of transportation in the United States. Most European cars were hand made, and they were very expensive so not that many people could afford to buy the cars.
Nicolas Joseph Cugnot a French military engineer built the first steam car or a self propelled vehicle in 1769. One was designed to carry passengers, while the other was a three-wheeled steam tractor for hauling very heavy artillery.
In 1801 and 1803 another inventor Richard Trevithick of the United Kingdom demonstrated four-wheeled steam propelled vehicles to carry passengers. Unfortunately, he lacked the money to continue his work in the United States.
In 1805 an inventor named Oliver Evans demonstrated a steam operated dredge, which was mounted on a boat.
He built the dredge to deepen and clean the Philadelphia waterfront. Evans put wheels on the boat and drove it. This machine weighed about 18 tons.
During the 1860's another American inventor Sylvester H. Roper developed a much smaller steam operated vehicle. This vehicle looked similar to present day vehicles. This attracted a lot of public attention and was even displayed in a circus.
Steam cars had many disadvantages. In the beginning, it took a very long time for the fire to heat the boiler. This was bad because you would have to wait around a long time and by the time it heated up you could have walked to the place you wanted to go. The inventors solved that problem, but many others remained. The steam engines had to be small to be practical for cars, so they had to be high pressured engines...