Wheels at Work
The first source of useful power on our planet was human. But mankind, in need of power beyond the capability of the human body as well as a more efficient way of transporting goods, turned to water, the animals around them and, centuries later, steam power.
Wherever there was sufficient water, barges were used to move heavy objects while domesticated animals – horses, oxen, mules, elephants - were sources of labor-saving energy limited only by the imagination of the user. Progress was slow, but steady.
The potential energy in falling water was eventually harnessed to spin millwheels, powering gristmills and belt drive systems in factories. Then steam power was perfected and used to propel trains and ships, large and small, as well as farm and construction equipment.
In the latter part of the 1800’s, the internal combustion engine was first envisioned, then developed into a power source for rudimentary automobiles. From that point on, progress was exponential, with gasoline, diesel and electric powered vehicles changing the world of work at a head-spinning pace.
In Germany, Karl Benz developed the first gasoline-powered tricycle in 1885, with Gottlieb Daimler producing a gasoline-powered bicycle in that same year and his first “horseless carriage” in 1886. In the United States, the Duryea brothers, bicycle builders by trade, first drove their “horseless wagon” in September, 1893. By 1895 they were ready for America’s first automobile race, from Chicago to Milwaukee, with a two-cylinder, four-speed automobile sporting pneumatic tires. The technology race was on!
To most Americans, the most significant development was Henry Ford’s Model T, the first affordable car for middle-class Americans. Until Ford’s industry-changing assembly line produced the first Model T in October, 1908, automobiles were built one-by-one and were the province of the rich. But by the time production switched to the Model A in 1927, Model T’s were everywhere and roads had been upgraded to handle the huge increase in traffic across the nation.
Most significantly, rural America found myriad uses for Ford’s low cost vehicle. They drove it to town, towed farm equipment and converted it to run on snow and ice using runners in place of the front wheels. They removed a rear wheel and attached a belt to drive threshers, saws, pumps and any number of other labor saving devices. Short of rural electrification, the Model T was the greatest influence on rural life in our nation’s history.
Since then, imaginative Americans have developed automobiles, trucks and power equipment that affect and shape every aspect of our lives. The Saratoga Automobile Museum is proud to showcase a few of these vehicles and their stories, both human and technical.