Who invented the automobile? It is a simple question. But the answer is not that easy. In the 15th Century, Leonardo da Vinci was creating designs for various forms of transportation. In 1769, Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot invented a steam-powered three-wheeled military tractor for the French Army that could travel at 2.5 miles per hour. In the 1830’s, Robert Anderson invented an electric carriage in Scotland.
It is generally accepted that Karl Benz developed the first gasoline-powered four-cycle internal combustion engine that powered a three-wheeled vehicle in Germany in 1886. Some claim that the first automobile in America was created by Charles and Frank Duryea who set-up an automobile manufacturing company in 1893.
However, there is a sworn statement from a Mr. James Swoveland of Ohio City, Ohio that he rode with John William Lambert in his horseless carriage on the streets of Ohio City in the Summer of 1891. The vehicle had two large wheels in the rear, a small wheel in front, was steered by a lever, and had a fringed top. By the following year, he had improved his one-cylinder engine and joined his father and brother in Union City, Ohio.
At the time, the old Baily Products Building on Division Street, was the home of the Pioneer Pole and Shaft Company. This building was converted for stationary gas engine manufacturing. Lambert mailed fliers advertising his invention for sale but few took him up. He never pressed his claim for having invented the first gasoline-powered car in America. As he didn’t have much success with selling them he instead allowed his friend Elwood Haynes, of Portland to claim the honor in advertising for his gasoline powered vehicle.
The Lambert family established the Union Automobile Company in Union City in 1902. Production soon reached 10 cars per month. It is estimated that they sold about 300 of these cars, but none are known to exist today.
In 1904, he built a second factory in Anderson. This led to the formation of the Lambert Automobile Company in 1905. He employed over 1,000 people and produced 3,000 cars and trucks per year. With the success of his farm tractor, he built a new plant in El Segundo, California.
During World War I, Lambert’s factories were converted to producing items for National Defense. Following the war, the company decided to go into fields associated with automobile manufacturing. The company still exists as Lambert Incorporated and has factories in Ansonia, and Dayton where it produces automotive parts, machine tools, and lawn and industrial sweepers.
Only a few of the Lambert vehicles remain, two are owned by the family. It is still debatable as to who invented the automobile, but, East Central Indiana, and Southwest Ohio has a valid claim at being the home of some of the earliest gasoline-powered automobiles in the Nation.