The history of the automobile is rich with notable events that helped shape the way we get around today. But few compare to Henry Ford‘s quadricycle trip, which took place back on June 4th, 1896. The Quadricycle was Ford’s very first four-wheeled vehicle, which he finished building just prior to his 33rd birthday, and one that the founder of Ford Motor Company then proceeded to successfully drive on Detroit streets a full 125 years ago.
Ford began toying around with the idea of building a road car back in the early 1890s in a workshop at his home in Detroit. By Christmas of 1893, he had put together his very first engine, though work on the Quadricycle didn’t begin until January of 1896. It didn’t take long before he had created the very first four-wheeled Ford vehicle, as Leslie Armbruster, Ford archives manager, explained to the Detroit Free Press.
“In the months before the Quadricycle was finished, he worked night after night until midnight or later, and all day and night Saturdays,” Armbruster said. “At that time, any man experimenting with ‘horseless carriages’ was considered something of an oddity.”
Regardless, Ford pressed on, building a “horseless carriage” that was constructed mostly from wood and rolled on bicycle wheels and pneumatic tires. It was capable of traveling at speeds of either 10 or 20 miles per hour and was shifted via a clutch lever, though there was no reverse gear. Soon, Ford’s mad creation was actually driveable, which we imagine would have been quite the sight on Detroit roads back in that era.
“With his wife and a helper, Jim Bishop, anxiously watching, Ford put the clutch in neutral and spun the flywheel,” Armbuster said. “The motor came to life! Ford drove the Quadricycle slowly along nearby Detroit streets, with Bishop on a bicycle ahead of him and a few curious passers-by staring incredulously.”
At the time, no one could have guessed that Henry Ford’s Quadricycle trip would spawn the birth of the Model A, one of the world’s largest automakers, and pivotal changes in manufacturing and mobility – not even Ford himself.
Photo credit: from the collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Ford Motor Company.