Black and white photograph of the first automobile, a 1886 Benz, invented by German Engineer Karl Benz. Courtesy of:


Black and white photgraph taken by The Grogan Photo Company in 1944 of a 4 cylinder Model T. Courtesy of: The Library of Congress

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Black and white photograph of the first automobile in Storrs, CT in 1904. A 4.5 horsepower Mobile Steamer owned by J.N. Fitts. Courtesy of:


   Automobiles were invented in Germany and France at the end of the 1800s but were always a work in progress. In 1893 two Ameican bicycle mechanics, J. Franks and Charles Duryea, invented the first successful American gasoline automobile but electric automobiles were the more common choice. The popularity of electric cars was on the rise until 1908 when American manufacturer Henry Ford introduced the Model T, an inexpensive gasoline-powered automobile that was sturdy and more practical than other models. The United States quickly came to dominate the automobile industry in the first half of the 20th century because it mass manufactured automobiles at lower prices than in Europe. Three major manufacturers of automobiles in the United States were Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler. Aside from these, there were at least 500 companies or firms that produced vehicles in 1910. A 1910 Connecticut publication, Laws concerning motor vehicles and list of automobiles showing taxable horse-power ratings, also table of fees, and List of registered motor vehicles, provides a list of rules of the road, a list of the several hundred automobiles available, as well as a list of all Connecticut residents with a licensed vehicle.

Popularity & Convenience

  There first automobiles in the beginning of the 20th century were bought by wealthier people and driven for status, pleasure, and comfort. Automobiles also became popular because they were convenient for running errands, commuting to work, and driving around as they were more dependable than horse-pulled carriages and required less maintenance. Family homes with automobiles in driveways were not common until around 1910 as by then they were inexpensive and mass produced. The 1908 Sanborn map of Willimantic shows two houses with small buildings labeled "auto house," presumably personal garages.


  During the beginning of the 20th century, automobile ownership exponentially increased. Automobile registrations in the United States: 

  • 1895: 4
  • 1900: 8,000
  • 1910: 468,500
  • 1920: 9,231,941
  • 1930: 26,545,281

The increase in automobiles has been attributed as a cause and result of more surfaced highways.