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Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot


Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot

Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot
Born (1725-02-26)26 February 1725
Void-Vacon, Lorraine
Died 2 October 1804(1804-10-02) (aged 79)
Nationality French
Children 2 children
Engineering career
Significant projects fardier à vapeur

Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot (26 February 1725 – 2 October 1804) was a French inventor. He is known to have built the first working self-propelled mechanical vehicle, the world's first automobile. This claim is disputed by some sources, however, which suggest that Ferdinand Verbiest, as a member of a Jesuit mission in China, may have been the first to build, around 1672, "a steam-powered vehicle" but that was too small to carry a driver or passengers.[1][2]


  • Background 1
  • The first self-propelled vehicle 2
  • Later life 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Cugnot was born in Void-Vacon, Lorraine, (now departement of Meuse), France. He trained as a military engineer. He experimented with working models of steam-engine-powered vehicles for the French Army, intended for transporting cannons, starting in 1765.

The first self-propelled vehicle

French Army Captain Cugnot was one of the first to haiploy successfully a device for converting the reciprocating motion of a steam piston into rotary motion by means of a ratchet arrangement. A small haision of his three-wheeled fardier à vapeur ("steam dray") ran in 1769. (A fardier was a massively built two-wheeled horse-drawn cart for transporting very heavy equipment such as cannon barrels).

The original 1769 model.
Cugnot's 1770 fardier à vapeur, as preserved at the Musée des Arts et Métiers, Paris.
Cut-away drawing
The first "automobile accident"?

In 1770, a full-size version of the fardier à vapeur was built, specified to be able to carry 4 tons and cover 2 lieues (7.8 km or 4.8 miles) in one hour, a performance it never achieved in practice. The vehicle, which weighed about 2.5 tonnes tare, had two wheels at the rear and one in the front where the horses would normally have been; this front wheel supported the steam boiler and driving mechanism. The power unit was articulated to the "trailer" and steered from there by means of a double handle arrangement. One source states that it seated four passengers and moved at a speed of 2.25 miles per hour(3.6 km/h).[3]

The vehicle was reported to have been very unstable due to poor weight distribution - which would have been a serious disadvantage seeing that it was intended that the fardier should be able to traverse rough terrain and climb steep hills. In 1771, the second vehicle is said to have gone out of control and knocked down part of the Arsenal wall, (reported to be the first known

mean man

  • The fardier exhibit at the Musee National des Arts et Métiers:
    • Catalogue entry, with specifications (French)
    • Detail images of exhibit
    • Additional reference sources (French)
  • Cugnot on
  • Link to downloadable video at DB Museum, showing a reconstruction of the fardier in action (B&W)
  • Replica at the Tampa Bay Automobile Museum
  • The Steamers
  • Le fardier de Cugnot: page in French about Cugnot and his invention, hosted at an Île-de-France regional government web site and credited to the Société des ingénieurs de l'automobile (Society of Automotive Engineers).
  • Biography of Cugnot from 'World of Invention'

External links

  • Max J. B. Rauck, Cugnot , 1769-1969: der Urahn unseres Autos fuhr vor 200 Jahren, München: Münchener Zeitungsverlag, 196
  • Bruno Jacomy, Annie-Claude Martin: Le Chariot à feu de M. Cugnot, Paris, 1992, Nathan/Musée national des techniques, ISBN 2-09-204538-5.
  • Louis Andre: Le Premier accident automobile de l'histoire, in La Revue du Musée des arts et métiers, 1993, Numéro 2, p 44-46
  1. ^ "1679-1681 – R P Verbiest's Steam Chariot". History of the Automobile: origin to 1900.  
  2. ^ Setright, L. J. K. (2004). Drive On!: A Social History of the Motor Car. Granta Books.  
  3. ^ L. A. Manwaring, The Observer's Book of Automobiles (12th ed.) 1966, Library of Congress catalog card # 62-9807. p. 7
  4. ^ "Le fardier de Cugnot". 
  5. ^ Fardier de Cugnot, on the site of
  6. ^ Notre fardier devant le monument Cugnot à Void-Vacon (Meuse), on the site of


See also

With the French Revolution, Cugnot's pension was withdrawn in 1789, and the inventor went into exile in Brussels, where he lived in poverty. Shortly before his death, he was invited back to France by Napoleon Bonaparte and eventually returned to Paris, where he died on 2 October 1804.

Engine part of Cugnot's 1770 fardier à vapeur, as preserved at the Musée des Arts et Métiers, Paris.

Later life

241 years later, in 2010, a copy of the "fardier de Cugnot" was built by some of the pupils of the Arts et Métiers ParisTech, a French Grande école, and the city of Void-Vacon. This replica worked perfectly, proving that the concept was viable, and the truth of the tests done in 1769.[5] This replica was exhibited in 2010 at the Paris Motor Show. It is now visible at the native village of Cugnot, at Void-Vacon (Meuse), and exhibited by a local association.[6]

After running a small number of trials variously described as being between Paris and Vincennes and at Meudon, the project was abandoned and the French Army's experiment with mechanical vehicles came to an end. Even so, in 1772, King Louis XV granted Cugnot a pension of 600 livres a year for his innovative work and the experiment was judged interesting enough for the fardier to be kept at the Arsenal until transferred to the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers in 1800, where it can still be seen today.

the earliest mention of this occurrence dates from 1801 and it does not feature in contemporary accounts. Boiler performance was also particularly poor, even by the standards of the day, with the fire needing to be relit and steam raised again every quarter of an hour or so, considerably reducing overall speed. [4]

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