Popular Science Monthly/Volume 57/August 1900/The Evolution and Present Status of the Automobile
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The Evolution and Present Status of the Automobile
By William Baxter Jr.
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IN this closing year of a century which is marked by unparalleled advances in science and its applications to the industrial arts, we are very much inclined to take it for granted that none of the inventions that are regarded by us as indicative of the highest order of progressive tendency, could by any possibility have been thought of by our forefathers; and as the automobile is looked upon as an ultra progressive idea, no one who has not investigated the subject would believe for a moment that its conception could antedate the present generation, much less the present century. The records, however.
show that the subject engrossed the attention of inventive minds many hundreds of years ago. In fact, as far back as the beginning of the thirteenth century a Franciscan monk named Roger Bacon prophesied that the day would come when boats and carriages would be propelled by machinery.
The first authentic record of a self-propelled carriage dates back to the middle of the sixteenth century. The inventor was Johann Haustach, of Nuremburg. The device is described as a chariot propelled by the force of springs, and it is said that it attained a speed of two thousand paces per hour, about one mile and a quarter. Springs have been tried by many inventors since that time, but always without success from the simple fact that the amount of energy that can be stored in a spring is practically insignificant.
In 1763 a Frenchman by the name of Cugnot devised a vehicle that was propelled by steam, and a few years after the date of his first experiment, constructed for the French Government a gun carriage which is shown in Fig. 1. As will be seen, the design was of the tricycle type, and it was intended to mount the gun between the rear wheels. The boiler, which resembles a huge kettle, hung over the front end and was apparently devoid of a smoke stack. Motion was imparted to the front wheel by means of a ratchet. Although this
invention is very crude, it must be regarded .as meritorious if we consider that it was made before the steam engine had been developed in a successful form for stationary purposes.
The next effort to solve the problem was made by W. Symington in the year 1784, the carriage devised by him being illustrated in Fig. 2. This coach, although pretentious in appearance, was crude
mechanically, but it actually ran. The service, however, was not what could be called satisfactory.
In 1803, Richard Trevithick brought out the carriage shown in Fig. 3, which could run. but was artistically a failure. Moreover, the machinery was such as would soon give out, even if well designed, on account of its exposed position.
Between 1805 and 1830, quite a number of steam vehicles were invented and put into practical operation. Fig. 4 shows a very elaborate
coach of this period, which was invented by W. H. James, and constructed with the assistance of Sir James Anderson, Bart. The machinery used in this design consisted of two powerful steam engines, one being connected with each one of the hind wheels in a manner similar to that employed in locomotives at the present time. The wheels were not fast upon the axle, hence they could revolve at different velocities in rounding curves. In this respect this invention embodied one of the features commonly used by automobiles of the latest design.
Two boilers were provided, one for each engine, and the record says that with one boiler the speed was six to seven miles per hour.
Fig. 5 shows an omnibus invented by Hancock. This vehicle ran on a regular route, carrying Square, London. Fig. 6 shows a carriage invented by Burstall and Hiel, which attracted a great deal of attention. It was probably the most complete and perfect mechanically of any invention that had been made up to that time.from Pentonville to Finsbury
Fig. 7 shows a carriage invented by Squire and Maceroni, who had been for a long time in the service of Goldsworth Gurney, one of the most noted experimenters of his day in steam propulsion. A number of carriages were made by these workers, on designs similar to Fig. 7, and it is said that they ran at a high rate of speed, probably ten miles per hour.
Fig. 8 illustrates an invention that is interesting from the fact that
it was to be operated by compressed air, and perhaps was the first effort to utilize this form of stored energy for the propulsion of vehicles. It was not a success, but its failure was due to the fact that the inventor labored under the delusion that the laws of nature could be circumvented by skillfully contrived mechanical devices so as to obtain something from nothing. The body of the carriage was used as a reservoir for the compressed air, and within the wheels were placed a number of pumps, the short bars projecting from the peripheries being the ends
of the plungers. The expectation was that as the wheels revolved, the plungers would be depressed, and thus air would be pumped into the reservoirs and this air would operate the engine that propelled the vehicle; hence the apparatus would supply its own power, and realize perpetual motion. If this attempt to controvert the laws of nature had not been relied upon, better results might have been obtained.
The highly ornamental coach shown in Fig. 9 was invented by Dr. Church about 1832. In addition to being ornamental, it was of massive construction and large capacity, being able to accommodate fifty passengers. Its operation is said to have been very satisfactory, a high rate of speed being attained and all grades on ordinary roads being easily mounted. The inventor swamped himself in endeavoring to compete with railroads.
Perhaps the most perfect of all the early automobiles was the one devised by Scott Russell, the celebrated designer of the Great Eastern. This carriage is shown in Fig. 10. It was operated successfully, and was able to mount the steepest hills and to attain a high rate of speed,. but as coal was used for fuel and the engines were of large capacity, it is probable that the smoke, exhaust steam and noise of the machinery were decidedly objectionable features. A line of these coaches was put in commission in Glasgow in 1846, each one having a seating capacity of twenty-six, six inside and twenty on the top. After several months of successful operation, the line was withdrawn on account of the opposition of the authorities and of the general public.
These few examples of the early attempts to solve the problem of mechanical propulsion of vehicles are sufficient to show that the automobile is not entirely a creation of the progressive mind of the latter part of the nineteenth century, but thai it engrossed the attention
of inventors more than one hundred and thirty years ago. The success attained by the workers in this field at different periods was directly in proportion to the degree to which the form of power used had been perfected at the time. The first inventors attained but slight success, owing to the fact that, in their time, the steam engine was in a crude form, but as the construction of the latter improved, so did that of the vehicles operated by it.
Before the days of steam, the power of wind mills was utilized to propel vehicles, and with such success that in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries wind-propelled wagons or 'Charvolants,' as they were called, were very numerous upon the flat plains of the Netherlands. From 1845 up to the early nineties, a period of nearly half a century, very little was done in the way of developing the automobile. From time to time inventors in various parts of the world devoted themselves to the subject, but they were generally looked upon as visionary cranks, and their work attracted little attention. During this period there was an almost universal prejudice against the use of any kind of mechanical power upon the streets or public highways, and it is even possible that if during these years any one had invented a horseless carriage, perfect in every way, he would have failed to obtain proper recognition. Prejudice against mechanically-propelled vehicles has gradually worn away, probably because of the introduction of cable and trolley cars, and at the present time the majority of people desire to see the substitution of mechanical for animal power. As a result of this change in public opinion, self-propelled vehicles are accepted as entirely satisfactory, which a few years ago would have been regarded
as failures. Notwithstanding this tolerant feeling, however, it is very doubtful whether the cumbersome coaches of the early part of the century would be received with favor at the present time when taste and requirements are entirely different. What is now desired is a light, fast-running and attractive vehicle, which could not be constructed along the lines followed by the inventors of former days. The automobile of to-day is a far more perfect device than its predecessors, although it can not be said to have reached a state of perfection. As motive power, steam, gasoline and electricity are used. Which of the three is the best, taking all things into consideration, it would be difficult to say, as each one has its defects as well as its advantages, and the evident superiority of each one in a certain direction is offset by deficiencies in other directions.
In every civilized country, where the mechanic arts are far enough advanced, automobiles are now being manufactured, but France is the country where modern development first began, and up to the present time it has maintained its leading position, although in quality of product, other nations, if not on a par with it, are certainly not very far behind.
The perfection to which the steam automobile has been developed
in these latter days is due mainly to the efforts of L. Serpollet, a distinguished French engineer. Other highly successful steam carriages are now manufactured in England and in this country, as well as in
several European nations, but Serpollet was the first to bring forth a successful fast-running and attractive vehicle, and the others have profited by his work.
One of the many designs of Serpollet carriages is shown in Fig. 11; Fig. 12 shows more fully the arrangement and location of the machinery. The engine used in these vehicles is made with four cylinders of the single action type; that is, they take steam at one end only. By using this construction, while the number of cylinders is increased, the other parts are greatly simplified, as the piston rods, crossheads and guides can he dispensed with. In addition, the whole engine can be made very compact.
The boiler is of the flash type; that is, it carries no water ordinarily, but when the engine is in operation, a pump injects into the boiler at each stroke of the engine as much water as may be required to generate the steam necessary-to propel the vehicle; the instant the water enters the boiler it is converted into steam. As the amount of steam is proportional to the amount of water, it can be seen that by regulating the water supply, the power of the engine and thereby the speed of the
carriage, can be controlled. This is the method actually employed to control the speed. In starting, a handle is moved which connects the engine, the boiler and the pump in the proper relation; and while under way the velocity is varied by the manipulation of a lever which controls the amount of water injected into the boiler. The fuel used is kerosene, which is vaporized and then fed into a properly constructed burner. The amount of oil supplied to the burner is regulated by the same lever that regulates the supply of water, so that both are increased or reduced in the proper proportion. The boiler is constructed of a number of steel tubes, which are about two and a half inches in diameter, and from three eighths to half an inch thick. These tubes are pressed into the form shown in Fig. 13, the dark line in the section marked A representing the interior space. A number of tubes collapsed in this form and bent into the shape B, are assembled as shown at C. The number of tubes depends upon the capacity of the boiler. As the tubes are very thick, they can, without any danger of bursting, be heated to so high a temperature that the water injected into them is at once turned into steam.
In Fig. 12 it will be seen that the engine is located under the body of the carriage between the two axles, and that motion is imparted to the hind wheels by means of chains and sprocket wheels. The boiler is located at the back of the vehicle, the lower part projecting some distance below the rear axle. A small smoke stack at the rear of the body allows the gases of combustion to escape. Between the front wheels, a compact condenser is located, and into this the steam from the engine is exhausted. The condenser serves two purposes:
it recovers a portion of the water that would otherwise escape into the air, and thus increases the distance the carriage can run without a new supply, and at the same time it lessens the noise produced by the exhaust, and also the volume of steam escaping into the atmosphere, which in cold or rainy weather becomes plainly visible.
Although we have been rather slow in this country in taking up the automobile, inventors and manufacturers are now working at a pace that will soon make up for lost time. We already have a number of designs of steam carriages whose operation is highly creditable. Fig. 14 illustrates one of these. The design of the engine, boiler and other mechanism can be well understood from Fig. 15, in which a portion of the body is removed to expose the internal parts. The boiler is a very compact form of the upright type, such as is used in fire engines. It is about fourteen inches in diameter and twenty inches high. To increase its strength, it is surrounded with two layers of piano wire. The engine is of the locomotive type, consisting of two
cylinders, the pistons of which are connected with cranks on the end of the shaft, these cranks being set at right angles, so as to prevent catching the engine on the dead center. The direction of rotation is reversed by means of the ordinary link motion. The fuel used is
gasoline, which is carried in the cylindrical tank located under the front of the carriage. The gasoline is vaporized and then, mixed with a proper proportion of air, passes to a burner placed under the boiler. The amount of steam generated is regulated by the amount of gasoline supplied to the burner, and this supply in turn is regulated by the pressure of the steam, so that the action is entirely automatic. The cylinder H is a reservoir of compressed air, connected with tank I, so that the gasoline is under pressure, and therefore is forced through the pipe to the burner under the boiler. Between the burner and the tank there is a valve controlled by the steam pressure, being opened when the pressure is low and closed when it is high. When the pressure reaches a certain point the valve is closed entirely, so that even if the carriage is running very slowly, it is not possible to run the pressure above the fixed limit. The exhaust passes from the engine cylinders
into a muffler, from which it escapes into the pipe K. This pipe projects downward into an opening through the center of the water tank, and the draught produced thereby draws the gases of combustion through from the top of the boiler to the under side of the carriage body, where they escape into the atmosphere.
Directly in front of the exhaust muffler is seen the water gauge, which is in such a position as to be outside of the carriage body, as shown in Fig. 14. A mirror is placed at the front of the vehicle, and by looking into this the water gauge can be seen. Fig. 14 also shows clearly the position of the operating levers at the side of the carriage. The actual construction of the engine is better shown in Fig. 1G, in which A A are the cylinders, B is the steam chest and G G are the valve rods. The piston rods connect with the crossheads C. The connecting rods D transmit motion from the latter to the cranks E, and thus rotate the shaft S. The link motions, by means of which the direction of rotation is reversed, are at I I, and are operated by the lever G, which is mounted upon the shaft F F. This shaft is directly connected with the starting lever. The boiler feed pump is located at M. The motion of the engine is transmitted to the rear axle of the carriage by means of a chain that runs over the sprocket wheel L located between the eccentrics K K. In Fig. 15, this wheel is located at D, and the chain F connects it with the axle sprocket E.
Fig. 17 shows another American steam carriage. In this vehicle the running gear is a complete truck, upon which the carriage body is supported. The appearance of the truck with the body removed is shown in Fig. 18. The boiler is of the tubular type and the double cylinder engine is secured to its side. In this particular the construction differs from that of the previously described carriage, for in that the engine is attached to the cross-framing of the body of the vehicle. Although the general appearance of the mechanism of these two carriages is very similar, there are many differences in the details of their construction. In both, vertical tubular boilers are used, and the steam is generated by the use of gasoline, which is burned in the vaporized state in specially constructed burners. The engine in both cases is of the vertical double cylinder type, and motion is transmitted to the hind axle by means of sprocket wheels and a chain; but here the similarity ends; the minor details, which it is not necessary to refer to in this connection, are with few exceptions very different.
A careful examination of Figs. 11, 14 and 17 will show that from an artistic point of view these examples of steam carriages are satisfactory. In regard to their operation it can be said that they have sufficient power to run up the steepest grades encountered on ordinary roads at a fair rate of speed, while on level ground their velocity is more than enough to satisfy the average rider. The danger of explosion is so remote that it need not be considered. The Serpollet
boiler is practically inexplosive, while those used in the American vehicles are so constructed that they can withstand a pressure far greater than any they can be subjected to in practice. It might be expected that the motion of the machinery would produce an unpleasant vibration, but on account of the lightness of the moving parts and careful balancing, this effect is much reduced. The use of gasoline as fuel, in connection with automatic burners, eliminates the smoke and ashes incident to the use of coal, and in addition reduces the labor of handling the vehicle, as no attention need be given to the mechanism other than to see that the water in the boiler is maintained at the proper level. In the case of the Serpollet carriages, not even this point need be looked after, as the feed of the boiler is perfectly automatic.