Written By North Carolina History Project

The buggymobile, a horse-less contraption that used a gasoline engine, was considered expensive and silly when it was first invented.  It soon became, however, one of the most innovative and popular transportation devices.  

The gasoline engine was first invented in 1860 in Europe.  Only twenty five years later, Karl Benz used such an engine to create the first gasoline-powered automobile.  Americans were innovative, too.   After creating a tricycle-like buggymobile in 1891, John W. Lambert drove his auto down the street and shocked and confused his neighbors with his horseless carriage.  

The buggymobile,inspired many inventors.  In 1893 the Duryea brothers, Charles and Frank, built a one-cylinder engine, three-speed transmission—much different than Lambert’s—that reached 7.5 miles per hour and traveled two hundred feet.  The brothers realized they had a lot of work to do, for Benz’s auto had traveled sixty-five miles.  By 1896 the Duryea brothers started their own business, Duryea Motor Wagon Company, and produced thirteen cars.  It was the first time America saw a mass production of horseless contraptions.  Due to heavy expenses and financial circumstances ($1,000 to $2,000 per car), the brothers were forced sold their company.  

In North Carolina, innovators wanted to participate in the burgeoning horseless carriage market.  Gilbert Waters was the first one to build a buggymobile.  He built two, to be exact–one in 1899, and another in 1903.  The New Bern resident was also the first Tar Heel to use a steam powered engine, reaching twelve miles per hour.  Waters’s entrepreneurial career ended much like the Duryea brothers.  He never acquired financial support and to fund his costly enterprise.   

Individuals such as Benz, Lambert, Waters, and the Duryea brothers all paved the way for the roaring success the automobile would have in the near future.  The entrepreneurial minds of these men enabled them to see a future in autos that others could not envision.  Their dedication and innovative spirit allowed men such as Henry Ford to take their knowledge, refine it, and then later mass produce and sell affordable automobiles.