Early Commercial Vehicles – a brief history

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In Europe and Britain wheeled vehicles (except primitive types) originated with the Roman road systems, but Roman roads declined with the Romans in the early 15th century. For about 200 years transport depended on the horse – pack horses for merchandise. The General Highways Act of 1555 compelled parishes to maintain its roads and this stimulated development in road transport. Coaches became common and early horse-drawn carts carried trade between towns. The stage-coach arrived in the mid-1600s and with it the commercial stage-wagon, a great lumbering four-wheeled cart, with canvas hood, pulled by a team of six or eight horses. These vehicles rarely travelled at more than 2 mph. Their enormous weight cut up the roads and in 1766 they were compelled to have wheels not less than sixteen inches wide. Obadiah Elliott invented the  elliptic spring or leaf spring in 1805 so with improved road surfaces from Thomas Telford and John Macadam, carriage design was transformed. Mechanically propelled vehicles were heralded in 1769 by Nicolas Joseph Cugnot in France who invented the first self-propelled land-based vehicle (which can be seen in the Musée Conservatoire national des Arts et Métiers in Paris).  Richard Trevithick’s vehicle ran in London in 1803, but financial support could not be found. Apart from the traction engine further progress was slow until 1896 when the Locomotives on Highways Act released mechanically propelled vehicles from the oppression of the ‘red flag’ that had to be borne by a pedestrian before the vehicle in order to warn the populace of the advancing menace.. On the continent Amédée Bollée built a steam wagonette with independent suspension in 1873. But several other pioneers were experimenting along entirely different lines and in Germany Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz, working quite independently, invented a petrol internal combustion engine and had vehicles on the road by 1885 and 1886 respectively. Ten years later Daimler had produced a motor-driven truck which is the world’s first petrol-engined commercial vehicle.

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