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June 5, 2024

June 4, 1896: Henry Ford’s First Car, the Quadricycle, Debuts

Henry Ford unveils the Quadricycle, the first automobile he ever designed or drove, on June 4, 1896, at approximately 4 a.m. in the coal shed behind his home on Bagley Avenue in Detroit.

The Quadricycle featured a light metal frame fitted with four bicycle wheels and a buggy bench seat. It was powered by a two-cylinder, 4-hp gasoline engine. There was no steering wheel, brakes or a reverse gear. The engine was air-cooled, but because it ran too hot, Ford added water jackets to the cylinders.

Ford was working as the chief engineer at the main plant of the Edison Illuminating Co. when he began working on the Quadricycle. He was on call day and night to make sure that Detroit had electric service around the clock. Ford used the flexible working schedule to experiment with his pet project, creating a horseless carriage powered by a gasoline engine.

Ford was smitten in 1876 when he saw a steam-powered vehicle chugging along a road. The obsession with gasoline engines was sparked when Ford spotted an article in a November 1895 issue of American Machinist magazine.

He also received unbridled encouragement from Thomas Edison, owner of the Detroit electric plant and one of Ford’s first heroes, who would become a longtime friend. “You have it,” Edison, the inventor of the incandescent electric lightbulb and phonograph, told his employee after the Quadricycle was created. “Keep at it.”

Ford drove the 500-pound Quadricycle down Grand River Avenue in Detroit, cruising three major thoroughfares. The Quadricycle had two driving speeds, 10 mph and 20 mph, and a doorbell button as a horn. The drive was considered a success, with just one breakdown from a faulty spring, and Ford was on his way to fine-tuning and mass-producing the automobile.

Ford sold the Quadricycle in late 1896 for $200, which he spent on building his second car. In 1904, with the success of Ford Motor Co., Henry Ford bought the Quadricycle back for $65.


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