#221, Modern car icon Carl Benz will get inventing honor

James Raia

German engineer Carl Benz was the first to design a car around the internal combustion engine rather than adding an engine to an existing wagon or carriage, a critical insight in auto evolution.

Benz, who died in 1929, is often called the inventor of the modern automobile. With six additional luminaries, all patent holders whose inventions range from cataract surgery to the Super Soaker will be honored as part of the latest class of National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF) inductees.

The National Inventors Hall of Fame has numerous displays and an annual induction ceremony.
The National Inventors Hall of Fame will inductee Carl Benz this year.

Rini Paiva, the NIHF executive vice president for selection and recognition, is our guest this week on The Weekly Driver Podcast. Carl Benz

Co-hosts Bruce Aldrich and James Raia discuss with Paiva the selection of Benz to this year’s inductees. We also discuss the organization, its mission and the selection process of the honored individuals.


“We really wanted the give the people who have changed our worlds the proper recognition they deserve,” said Paiva of the multi-pronged organization, including its museum located in Alexandria, Va. “It’s where we can celebrate the inventors who we are talking about.”

According to his bio posted on the NIHF website, Benz partnered with co-investors in 1882 to establish Benz & Cie. to market a stationary two-stroke engine he had developed. Its success allowed Benz to focus on developing a lighter engine for vehicles. The two-stroke engine was impractical for this purpose, so Benz set to work on increasing the speed of the four-stroke engine by developing the ignition and valve control.

By 1886, Benz had built a gasoline-powered three-wheeled vehicle, the first to combine an internal combustion engine with an integrated chassis. The two rear wheels supported the 0.75 hp strong, single-cylinder engine, and the front wheel was connected to the steering tiller inside the passenger compartment.

The National Inventors Hall of Fame is located in Alexandria, Virginia.
The National Inventors Hall of Fame, located in Alexandria, Virginia, will induct modern car inventor Carl Benz this year.

Debuting on the streets of Mannheim in July 1886, it had all the main components of today’s internal combustion engines: a crankshaft, electric ignition and water cooling. It traveled about 10 km on a liter of gasoline (about 23 mpg), reached a top speed of 16 kph (about 10 mph) and is considered by experts as the first practical, gasoline-powered automobile to be commercially available.

“It’s very difficult, it’s interesting and sometimes it can even be fun,” said Paiva, light-heartedly. “We don’t limit the inventors were are looking at to any particular area. The main requirement is that they have a U.S. patent. “The other thing that we look for and that our selection committee is where the inventors have done has impacted our lives.”

The inductees will be honored at “The Greatest Celebration of American Innovation,” on May 4-5.

Danica McKellar, star of the TV show “The Wonder Years,” Hallmark Channel regular and author of New York Times bestselling “McKellar Math” books — will serve as master of ceremonies.

Please join Bruce and me for an informative discussion with Paiva about the pending celebration and the legacy of Carl Benz.

To learn more about the event, visit: www.invent.org/induction.

For general NIHF information, visit: www.invent.org.

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Article Last Updated: April 1, 2022.

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