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The History of the Automobile
Where did the name Automobile come from?
The History of the Car
Part I: Steam Cars
Part 2: Electric Cars
Part 3: Gas Cars
Part 4: Assembly Line
Related Car History Resources
More Car History
Car Model History
Car Parts History
American Roads
Panhard and Levassor
Duryea Brothers
Henry Ford
By Mary Bellis

"The new mechanical wagon with the awful name automobile has come to stay..." New York Times (1897 article)

The New York Times' mention of the name automobile was the first public use of the term by the media and helped to popularize that name for motor vehicles. However, the credit for the name automobile goes to a 14th Century Italian painter and engineer named Martini. 

Martini never built an automobile but he did draw plans for a man-powered carriage with four wheels. Martini thought up the name automobile from the Greek word, "auto," (meaning self) and the Latin word, "mobils," (meaning moving). 

The other popular name for an automobile is the car. The word car is derived from Celtic word "carrus," (meaning cart or wagon).

What other names for motor vehicles have famous automobile inventors used? Let's check the names they used in their patent applications.

  • Oliver Evans applied for a U.S. patent in Philadelphia in 1792 for a  "oruktor amphibolos"
  • George Selden received a patent for a "road machine" in 1879. 
  • The Duryea brothers patented their "motor wagons" in 1895.
  • Henry Ford called his 1896 car a "Quadricycle." 
Other early media references to motor vehicles included names such as: autobaine, autokenetic, autometon, automotor horse, buggyaut, diamote, horseless carriage. mocole, motor carriage, motorig, motor-vique, and the oleo locomotive.

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