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May 8: George Selden filed for the first automobile patent on this date in 1879

GE Anderson
8 May 2013

On this date -- May 8, 1879 -- 134 years ago, George B. Selden of Rochester, New York became the first person to file a patent for the gasoline-powered automobile, which he called a "road engine." Ironically, there are no photographs of the historic occasion, despite the fact that George Eastman, who would invent roll film five years later and go on to found the Eastman Kodak Company, was the witness to Selden's patent. Selden received royalties for his invention for years from the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers, despite the fact that Selden never built a car based on his original design. The association eventually maneuvered out of paying him when Ford claimed his cars used an Otto cycle engine instead of Selden's Brayton cycle engine. And although Selden filed the first patent, due to several subsequent updates that delayed the patent's being granted until 1895, Karl Benz actually received his German patent first. Still, the gas-powered car can rightly be said to be an American invention.

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