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Who invented the automobile? Obama claims it was the United States. History 101 Score: F.


President Obama gave his first speech to Congress this evening to talk up the bailout and his administration’s policies on everything from foreign policy to manufacturing.

The short version of the speech goes like this. Bailout, money, banks, more money, wars, more money, Gitmo, lead by example, more money.

But there was one line in the speech that is raising eyebrows:

“And I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it.”

We could be flippant and suggest that given how grossly inaccurate the line is, that maybe the US Government should walk away from the industry.

For the record, the answer to the question who invented the automobile is Karl Benz in Germany in 1885-86. If we want to be more pedantic, Benz invented the first true automobile, that is a car that runs on gasoline. The first “horseless carriage” was created by Frenchman Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot in 1769 (steam powered) and a Scot by the name of Robert Anderson created an electric vehicle in the 1830s. The first automobile made in the United States came along in 1893.

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33 Responses to “Who invented the automobile? Obama claims it was the United States. History 101 Score: F.”

  1. Ric

    Haha, that really surprised me that He said that.. I though he had the best people working with him.. Oops, he pulled a Bush! (stupid comment)

  2. Thijs

    “We could be flippant and suggest that given how grossly inaccurate the line is, that maybe the US Government should walk away from the industry.”

    hahaha, well said 😀

  3. SeanO

    You are the one who gets the “F” in history. The automobile isn't even an invention. The concept of a machine-powered carriage dates back to Da Vinci and even earlier. The significant invention was the self-condensing steam engine, invented by James Watt (an American). This allowed people to build steam powered automobiles. Trains with tires basically. A Frenchman built the first. Later a Russian invented the gas combustion engine, and this allowed many, many people to build an automobile with that. Karl Benz happened to be the first one to make a commercial one. Hardly worthy of being called “the inventor of the automobile.”

    But the real “invention” was Henry Ford's assembly-line. That's where the automobile industry, as we know it, really came from.

  4. Rogier

    James Watt was british NOT american and Ford didn't invent anything, he just found a way of builing cars faster.

  5. ospalh

    “And I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it.”
    He was right. We in Germany can't walk away from it.
    If Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Opel, Porsche, Volkswagen went under, we'd be in serious trouble.
    It's just none of his business, really. (With the exception of Opel, which is part of GM.)

  6. truth-r-us

    OK, he may got it wrong this time, but we were the first to launch the Spoofnik, and Gagarin was an American, right?

  7. cheryl

    So why does BHO get a pass by the mainstream media? If George Bush had made this blunder he would have been blasted as an absolute idiot!

  8. SeanV

    Because when you make a HABIT of making idiotic statements then you earn that label. I do feel that he should be called out on this…..and I voted for him.

  9. American reader

    Yes Obama made an overstatement. Automobiles were around before Henry Ford. Ford had maybe a 100 competitors when he started making cars. Ford's contribution was to figure out how to make them cheaply and actually do it. So you could say Ford made/invented the first “practical,affordable gas powered automobile”. He developed/invented/perfected a method of manufacture.

    Edison did not invent the light-bulb. He invented the first practical, incadescent electric lighting system. Even in this his invention came along at the same time as Swan's(in the UK) lightbulb, based on similar principles. Fuirther, Edison's method of lighting was rejected when tungstun bulbs were developed. His filament system did not work as well.

    Lets just say we Americans are good at self promotion (that is why we have Holywood) and (in the past) pretty good at getting things to work.

  10. Hoochie

    If an American didn't invent the automobile, America certainly improved the concept of the horseless carriage and mass production.

    George F. W. Bush thought that September 7 was Pearl Harbor Day and he was a Navy man.

    Everyone misspeaks at some point in time. Limbaugh does it all the time, Right?


  11. BobinOhio

    The President simply missed a single word and that word was industry. America invented the automobile industry. Henry Ford redefined the word automobile and forged an industry out of what was till that point a mere curiosity and plaything for a miniscule wealthy few!!

  12. Super Mom

    Maybe he means “the first who mass produced the automobile” it was Henry Ford, an American.

  13. Matt

    He didn't say the United States, he said, “I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it.” Maybe he was talking about Germany because he wants to lead the US down the same path?!

  14. christophor

    I swear I was taught (in public school of course) that the car as we know it was a US invention and Henry Ford invented the assembly line. I was wrong on both counts. I think the assembly line was invented in Germany. I forget where the cars were invented first England I think.

    Maybe it's better to say the U.S. invented the modern “Automobile Industry”. Ford was screwing his employees over by modern standards. No weekends, 5 minute lunch break. The forced the workers to unionize. It's clear that a great idea got out of hand over the last hundred years.

    Either way, I think the US had the biggest influence in making cars and mass produced goods in the early 20th century. I think that was the point he was going for.

  15. Chaz

    To say I was a little disappointed at this gaff is an understatement.
    No Barry, Henry Ford only invented the production line for his car. The first true gasoline powered car was from Karl Benz. Karl Benz and Gotlieb Daimler went on to found Daimler Benx AKA Mercedes Benz.

  16. Chaz

    Because he rearely makes those mistakes and he is able to string two words together into a cohearent sentence. I think it was howver a very stupid mistake. That however has much more to do with general American arrogance than anything else. We also did not invent what we call the internet. It is actually really the World Wide Web, which is where www comes from. The WWW was invented by a scientist in Berne Switzerland. The Internet was a bunch of military computers tied together in a net only in the USA.

  17. Chaz

    No America did not invent the Automobile industry they invented the production line. There are many car companies that do not use that way of building a car and they produce cars for the masses. Peugeot already existed in france as did Citroen and austin in England and and and. They were cars for the masses, not the wealthy elite.

  18. Chaz

    No she said she could see Russia from her back door and thought that Africa was a country not a continent and couldn't and still can't string two words together into a sentence that actually means something.

  19. savagemike

    Although to be fair it was an American name Henry Ford who made the automobile affordable and available to the general public. But I see nobody pointing that out.

  20. Anonymous

    It's what professors usually do.. In their own subject they can usually be affluent about whatever they might need to educate the class, but when they breach outside of their course material (Usually with computers or cars or that “high tech crap” as they so technically call it(come on it's not that hard)) they are way out of their leagues and make incorrect statements, such as this one. The problem is, that it might be reassuring when a student who realizes this flaw does not speak up and tell the teacher that they are not correct. I think it has to do with students not wanting to tell their teachers they are incorrect, and I am guilty of it. He could have added two words to “automobile” and been correct. If only he would have said “Automobile production line”.

  21. James

    Let's see… The Obamessiah said “[Republicans] will say 'You know, he doesn't look like those other presidents on those dollar bills…'” That's funny, there's only one president on dollar bills that I know of–unless they're counterfeit.

    The One also said he'd been in fifty-seven states at one point in his campaign, and at a Memorial Day event said “On this Memorial Day, as our nation honors its unbroken line of fallen heroes — and I see many of them in the audience here today — our sense of patriotism is particularly strong.” So, was that like _Sixth Sense_ (“I see dead people”) or _Weekend at Bernie's_?

    How many idiotic statements does it take to become a habit?

  22. DaveR

    In the same speech he said the transcontinental railroad (started July 1865 – finished 1869) was built during the Civil War (1861-April 1865); in his inaugural address, he said forty-four Americans have been president (Grover Cleveland may have been 22nd and 24th presidents, but he was only one American); in a press conference, he said the causes and effects of the Depression/New Deal were a settled issue; in the campaign, he said Americans liberated Auchschwitz, that there were 57 states, that the seas would recede and planet heal itself if he were elected. It sounds to me like he has a BAD habit of saying statements, but since he says them so eloquently, ignorant fools don't seem to notice or care.

  23. DaveR

    Tina Fey said she could Russia from her house, Palin said Russia was visible from Alaska (the Diomedes Islands)

  24. DaveR

    If he misspoke I can forgive it. The problem with Obama's statements is they have come in prepared speeches, that were surely proofread and factcheck. Not only is Obama ignorant, so is his staff.

  25. Hoochie

    To DaveR from Hoochie,
    Once again I have to mention the fact that George, Sr., in giving a speech on September 7, referred to that day as Pearl Harbor Day (which we all know is December 7).  Who were his speech writers and staff at that time? 
    I feel that with all the problems this country is facing, and will have to face for a lot of years, we have more to worry about than a misstatement by Barack Obama.
    What I like about Obama and his wife Michelle is the fact that they are trying to be as open as possible with the American people.  If he is to succeed in his administration, he needs the support of the American people.  Unless like Rush Limbaugh, you just want to see him fail.  I hope that is not the case, or this country is a sorry lot of people.

  26. Bear Baker

    1 Dollar Bill – Washington
    2 Dolar Bill – Jefferson
    5 Dollar Bill – Lincoln
    20 Dollar Bill – Jackson
    50 Dollar Bill – Grant
    500 Dollar Bill – McKinley
    1,000 Dollar Bill – Madison
    100,000 Dollar Bill – Wilson

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