One Minute History (actually more like 5 minutes - but it's interesting!) - How George Seldon was considered the inventor of the car even though he never invented one


This morning I was reading the 'today in history' section of and found this little tidbit interesting.  It said today in history, Seldon got a patent on the gas powered car.  I thought to myself; "I don't recall ever hearing about cars named 'Seldon'?" As I read a bit more, that's when it got interesting.

In 1895, an attorney named George Selden won a U.S. patent for an “improved road engine” powered by a “liquid-hydrocarbon engine of the compression type.” With that, as far as the government was concerned, George Selden had invented the car–though he had never built a single one.

"Selden’s design was fairly vague, and was actually based on a two-cylinder internal-combustion engine that someone else had invented: Selden had simply copied the one he’d seen on display at the 1872 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition."

Selden went on to sell his patent to a group of investors who in turn immediately sued the Winton Motor Carriage Company, the largest car manufacturer in the United States, for infringing on the Selden patent just by building gas-powered cars.

Winton settled, and the court upheld Selden’s patent in 1903.

After that, about 30 car companies, including Winton, got together with Selden and the EVC to form the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers (ALAM). The ALAM sued anyone who built a gas-powered car without Selden’s permission–in other words, anyone who had not paid to join the Selden cartel. It also drummed up business for its own members by threatening to sue anyone who bought a car from an unlicensed company. (Its ads warned: “Don’t buy a lawsuit with your new automobile!”)

(By now, as I was reading this, I was wondering when and how Ford came into the story;  that is the name I think of when I think of the first cars... but so far they hadn't played into story.  Ah, but then their name popped up in the article and I understood...)

Here is a little more about that part of the history:

"But Selden’s group, composed mostly of Eastern carmakers that built ritzy cars for rich buyers, made a mistake: It excluded the Midwestern manufacturers who built lower-priced cars for ordinary people.

In particular, it excluded Henry Ford. On October 22, 1903, the ALAM sued Ford for patent infringement, but the case took until 1909, seven months after the Model T was introduced, to go to trial. Most Americans, delighted to have the opportunity to buy an affordable car, were on Ford’s side, but the judge was not: The court ruled that any gas-powered vehicle unlicensed by the ALAM violated the Selden patent and was illegal.

But on January 11, 1911, the appeals court ruled in Ford’s favor: the Selden patent, it said, only applied to replicas of the exact engine that Selden had seen in 1872."