John William Lambert made America's first such automobile in 1891, according to a five-year extensive study by L. Scott Bailey, a well-known automobile historian, editor, and publisher. The study found substantial evidence to enter this claim on Lambert's behalf. The evidence from Bailey's study shows that Lambert designed, built, and ran a gasoline engine automobile in the early part of 1891 that he put on the market. It shows that neither Henry Ford nor the Duryea Brothers have the distinction of building the first such practical working internal combustion gasoline engine automobile in the United States. In Europe Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler produced the first gasoline automobiles in 1885/1886. The Duryea brothers made their automobile in 1893 and started the Duryea Motor Wagon Company in 1895 mass-producing cars. Henry Ford started mass-producing cars in 1899 at the Detroit Automobile Company.
Lambert initially designed and built his "horseless carriage" gasoline automobile in 1890. He successfully tested it in January 1891 inside an 80-foot (24 m) farm implement showroom he owned in Ohio City, Ohio. Lambert's three-wheeled surrey-top gasoline-powered buggy was his own design. It had a single cylinder, four-stroke engine. This, the Buckeye gasoline buggy, was a one-seat tricycle with large rear wheels.
Lambert designed a sales brochures advertising its specifications in January 1891. He mailed this brochure out to prospects in the first part of February 1891 with a price of $550. Later in the month of February 1891 he was running his automobile on the main street of Ohio City. Bailey points out there are several letters on file dated in the latter part of February and the early part of March 1891 requesting additional information on this "horseless carriage" that Lambert described in the brochure. Other letters of inquire continued, however Lambert ultimately was not able to sell any.
This first model had a wipe spark ignition and dry cell batteries. The automobile had two speeds forward and none going backwards. A hand steering device was added later when the automobile was used outside on the roads. The weight of the car was 585 pounds. It had wooden wheels with steel rims for extra wear. The carburetor was a surface vaporizer with a flexible diaphragm "compensator." This was patented by Lambert on May 17, 1902. The original model cost Lambert $3200. In 1904 it was lost in a fire when a grain elevator building that he was having remodeled burned to the ground.
In 1892 Lambert decided to manufacture stationary gasoline engines. He moved to Anderson, Indiana, and there started Buckeye Manufacturing Company. In that same year he announced he would "soon have a gasoline vehicle on the market" to be called the Buckeye. He sent a picture to the newspapers, which was of the Buckeye gasoline buggy he made in 1891. This endeavor also did not come to fruition. Instead he continued experimentation and devised the friction gearing disk drive transmission. He invented and developed a friction transmission that would be the key feature on all of his future automobiles he would make. Lambert's first model design of 1891 was eventually modified and developed into the Union automobile which first was sold in 1902.
Lambert Days is a community celebrating that honors the life of John W. Lambert, the first gasoline-powered single-cylinder vehicle, and the world's first car wreck. This is an annual three-day event that takes place in Ohio City, Ohio on the third weekend of July. Activities and events: Car Show, Art Festival, Flea Market, Sporting Events, Parade, Live Entertainment, and Lambert Automobile Displays. https://www.facebook.com/lambertdays/info
In the late nineteenth century, there were many individuals in the United States working on a "horseless carriage", some of which paralleled the time frame of Lambert. Some notable individuals with verifiable primary sources that invented such vehicles before the Duryea brothers were Henry Nadig, Charles H. Black, and Elwood P. Haynes.
Henry Nadig of Allentown, Pennsylvania invented a vehicle that history records he built sometime between 1891 and 1893. In 1905, Nadig reports that he began to construct a "horseless carriage" in 1891 and when he finished it, he then ran it on Fourth Street in Allentown. The original 1891 vehicle was extensively modified in the winter of 1892–93 to the point it could be almost considered a different vehicle. This vehicle was driven "for pleasure" for the next ten years. As of 1992, this vehicle was owned by a David K. Bausch of Allentown. About 70% of the original vehicle still existed, however it was in "rough" condition and needed complete restoration. The historical importance of this particular vehicle is that it may be the oldest America-made gasoline-powered automobile that still exists.
Charles H. Black reported that he completed and tested his first steam engine "chug buggy" in 1891. He rejected a steam engine "as too cumbersome and hard to manage" for use in an automobile. He then went about making a gasoline engine vehicle. Later in 1891 he then tried such a "horseless carriage" out in Indianapolis on the paved streets of Circle and Delaware. He drove this vehicle around Indianapolis for the next twenty years. A business card of C.H. Black Manufacturing Company showed a picture of this vehicle with the writing "Estimates furnished for power-equipped vehicles of any style." The business card was dated 1892.
Elwood P. Haynes, who successfully made his trial run of his automobile on July 4, 1894, arranged a meeting with Lambert shortly thereafter. He told Lambert, a close friend of his, that he planned on manufacturing the car and wanted to advertise it as "America's First Car" to be able to promote sales. Lambert agreed not to refute this even though Lambert's three-wheeled automobile is considered to be the first successful gasoline automobile available for sale in the United States. He let his friend Haynes take the honors. A mistake Haynes made was that the Duryea brothers and others predated him. Lambert never broke his promise to his friend, however when he went into production he often made reference to his "1891" gasoline engine horseless carriage buggy but never said it was "America's First Car" made. The Smithsonian Institution has not declared Lambert the inventor of the first commercially available self-powered gasoline engine automobile because he himself never made this claim.
George B. Selden applied for a patent on a vehicle in 1879 of an "improved road engine" based on a compression engine that used liquid-hydrocarbon fuel (i.e. gasoline). The patent covered the basics of constructing a horseless carriage of a self-propelled automobile, however he had not actually built such a vehicle. Selden worked off the principles of George Brayton's two-cycle gasoline engine patented in 1872. Blayton had exhibited his engine at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876 and Selden then decided to use that engine or a modified version of it as the basis for a patent. He went about drawing up a model of a vehicle and applied for a patent strictly based on the drawing alone. Selden then used legal evasive tactics to stall the patent's acceptance each year making minor amendments until he felt it was favorable for commercial production of the American automobile. The idea behind this was that he wanted to secure the claim of being the first to have invented the automobile and get the seventeen-year legal rights to all the automobile royalties. He legally stalled the process until he was forced to complete the application process. This was sixteen years after he first applied for the patent and a few months before the actual mass-production of automobiles by car manufactures. History records of automobile technology do not support his claim as being the first to have invented the automobile because at the time he was issued the patent Selden had not been able to make a working model. This evasion and stalling of finalizing a patent then had much influence as to how future automobile patents were handled from then on.
A "vehicle" was patented by a F. A. Huntington of San Francisco on January 11, 1889. This was about six months after Carl Benz received a patent in the United States for a "self-propelling vehicle." There seems to be no further record if Huntington built his 1889 gasoline engine vehicle or if there was a west coast sales distribution of the vehicle before 1891. Huntington's 1889 patent was four years before the Duryea brothers built their first car in 1893. Huntington's patent number 411,196 states: