The primary “automotive” in world historical past to be recreated – the steam automotive designed by Ferdinand Verbiest in 1675 truly drove it

A historic invention is at stake: in 1675, a Belgian Jesuit priest built the first self-propelled vehicle – a small steam car. A German research team has now checked whether this car could indeed be driven by rebuilding the car according to historical descriptions. And indeed: a four-wheel heat engine can move with its own power, tests have shown.

January 29, 1886 is generally considered the birth hour of the automobile. On this day, Karl Benz patented his car with a combustion engine – the car that was supposed to make history. But Benz was by no means the first inventor of an automobile, and therefore literally of the vehicle (mobiles) itself (automobiles). For more than a century before him, inventors had been experimenting with various steam-powered vehicles.

glowing coal as “fuel”

However, the first designer of such a car was not an engineer or a technologist, but a Belgian Jesuit priest: Ferdinand Verbiest, who was posted as a missionary in China, designed a self-propelled vehicle almost 350 years ago, and therefore the actual car is considered the inventor of the car. The car was powered by a boiler filled with glowing coals, the heat of which produced steam.

However, you could not ride in the rather strange-looking car, because it was only 60 cm long and 30 cm wide. But moving people and loads wasn’t Verbest’s goal. The Jesuit priest wanted to show the technical achievements the West was able to achieve and to prove that the principle of steam propulsion worked. In 1675 he completed his small four-wheeled car and presented it in Beijing.

Only the description remains

But in Europe, this achievement remained largely unknown. Only Verbest’s report, in which he summarized all the scientific achievements of the Jesuits in China for his religious leaders, attests to this. This book “Astronomia Europaea”, which was printed in Dillingen at that time, has survived to this day and contains a relatively accurate, albeit somewhat cumbersome, description of a small car. Excerpted from:

“In the middle I placed a trough full of glowing coals and above this container an aeolopile (= steam turbine). To the hub of the front wheels I attached a bronze gear, lying transversely and horizontally, interlocked with another small wheel, mounted on an axle – perpendicular to the horizon – in such a way that the axle The latter spins, the cart moves,” wrote the Jesuit.

He added another wheel to this hub, which was fitted with pairs of small tubes on the outside. “By pressing them, the wind, emanating from the narrow nozzle of the Aolopile, turned the whole wheel, and at the same time drove the cart, which for an hour or more ran in a fairly rapid fashion.”

A replica of the car in practical testing

Gerd Schlag, historian of Ingolstadt, came across this description of the car by chance when he was preparing an exhibit around the cemetery of Jesuit missionaries in Beijing. Heat got curious and wanted to know if the Verbest minivan was actually driving at the time. Thomas Suchandt of the Technical University of Ingolstadt and his students have now taken this examination.

Using the descriptions in Verbist’s book, the rebuilding team first reconstructed the blueprints and then recreated the small car. First, they built the model using modern materials to verify that it would work at all. They searched for the right type of wood, and tried the right pressure and amount of water. Experimentation was the motto. “Some parts flew around our ears,” Suchandt says.

Evidence provided: She was driving

But in the end the replica was completed – and already led. This proved that the Verbiest design was indeed a self-propelled vehicle – a car. “Water vapor-assisted reflux was already known to the ancient Egyptians. But this heat engine, called the Aeolipile, was considered a curiosity and was of no practical use at the time,” Suchandt explains. moving.”

After the first test with modern materials, the students from Suchandt’s team now want to recreate a version of the Verbiest car using historical materials.

Source: Technical University of Ingolstadt

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