The Greatest Car Innovations throughout the Course of History

Cars are essential to our lives. Today the number of cars on the roads is estimated to exceed the 1 billion mark. Yes, there are over 1 billion cars on the roads today, and we take them for granted. They come in all shapes and sizes, but the way in which they are built is the same. Even though not much difference can be found from car to car nowadays, except for the design of course, it wasn’t always like that. Throughout history, different manufacturers have come up with different things to put in their cars. Some of these innovations are thought to be the greatest car innovations in history.

old car photo

1. The Electric Starter

We’ve all seen this in the movies, cartoons, or maybe we just read about it somewhere, but in the past cars didn’t come with an electric starter. If you wanted to start your car, you had to go up front, where the engine is, and crank the engine by hand. Although critics had stated that there wasn’t a way to create an electric starter small enough to fit in the car, one man didn’t think so. That man is Charles Kettering, and thanks to him, today we can just jump into our cars, turn the key, and be on our way.

manual car starter photo

Photo by Bryce Womeldurf


2. Flashing Turn Signals

Back in the past, there was no way to indicate which way someone was going except for giving signals with their hands. This was a huge problem because they would have to let go of the steering wheel and put themselves in danger to give a turning signal. This was the only way to do it, until 1935 when a Delaware company used a thermal interrupting switch to create a light bulb turn on and off again continuously. This ingenious system was eventually exchanged with transistor circuits in the 1960s.

flashing turn signals photo

3. Windshield or Windscreen Wipers

Even though it is a legal requirement today, cars in the past didn’t have any windscreen wipers. This was an ongoing issue in the past, and many engineers gave a shot at creating windscreen wipers. The first operational windscreen wiper system is credited to Mary Anderson in 1903. Afterwards, Robert A. Douglass created a similar design. The design which is still used today, although heavily modified, was provided by William M. Folberth.

windshield wipers photo

Photo by qyphon


4. The Three-pedal System

We are all used to the pedal system of today, which consists of a clutch, brake, and a throttle (no clutch on automatic cars), but it wasn’t always like that. In the past, cars came with different levers and pedals in order to operate the clutch or brakes. For example, the Ford Model T had a hand lever to operate the clutch, while later cars used both a hand lever and a pedal. The ingenious system, having three pedals, is a relatively new invention.

ford model T photo

Photo by Jon’s pics


5. First Single Foot Brake Pedal

You can start up your car and go, but after a while, you will have to come to a stop. Throughout the years, there have been various ways of getting the car to a halt. The earliest brakes were levers that made direct contact with the tires. The first single foot brake system was put in a French luxury car. By then, breaks were independent, or divided into front and back brakes, and they had to be operated with separately. The modern anti-lock brakes we have today were primarily invented for aircraft but have later on been used in cars.

mini photo

Photo by bjimmy934


6. Power Steering

Even though it’s an old invention that goes as far back as 1876, it wasn’t introduced in modern cars for another 75 years. Cars started getting heavier and turning the steering wheel started turning into a real nightmare. A system that could assist in turning the wheels and be small enough to fit in cars had to be invented.  The first power assisted steering system to be put in a commercial passenger car was in 1951 with the Chrysler Imperial, under the name “Hydraguide”. It was then followed by Cadillac, and it became standard on many cars to come. The power assisted steering has developed so much, that nowadays you can operate the steering wheel using one finger.

chrysler imperial photo

Photo by bsabarnowl


7. Airbags

Safety is always number one. Everyone wants to feel as safe as possible when they are traveling at great speeds. There were many attempts to make the cars as safe as possible, but the airbag surely is number one. Airbags began appearing as early as 1941 as air-filled bladders, and the original designers were Walter Linderer and John Hetrick, who both patented their invention in 1953. Then a breakthrough occurred in airbag systems when Allan K. Breed used a mechanically based ball-in-tube component that revolutionized crash detection. Almost all cars today come standard with airbags. Airbags save thousands of lives annually.

airbags photo

Photo by hectorir