Selden Automobile Patent Model, 1879

George Selden's dubious claim that he invented the automobile cast a shadow on the early auto manufacturing industry. His claim rested on a patent application for a "road-engine" that he had filed in 1879. A lawyer schooled in science, Selden was intrigued by the challenge of devising an engine light enough to propel a road vehicle. He designed a small, improved version of George Brayton's compression engine of 1872 and filed a patent application for "a liquid-hydrocarbon engine of the compression type" combined with broadly defined chassis components. Selden deliberately delayed issuance of the patent until 1895, when automobiles were attracting more attention. Soon a patent-pooling association of auto manufacturing companies demanded and received royalties from other manufacturers for the right to produce Selden's "invention." Henry Ford, then just entering the automobile industry, became locked in a highly-publicized legal battle with the Selden interests when his application for a license was turned down in 1903. Ford blasted monopolistic control and exploitation by the "automobile trust" and forever fixed his image as an independent businessman fighting a corporate Goliath for the good of all. Ford's victory in court raised his standing in the automotive industry and made him one of the best known businessmen in America. In 1911 the Selden patent was limited to vehicles with Brayton-type engines as modified by Selden, and his influence quickly faded.
Currently not on view
Object Name
patent model, automobile, gasoline
Date made
patent date
Selden, George B.
overall: 7 1/2 in x 6 1/2 in x 11 in; 19.05 cm x 16.51 cm x 27.94 cm
associated place
United States: New York, Rochester
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
patent number
Industry & Manufacturing
Road Transportation
National Treasures exhibit
See more items in
Work and Industry: Transportation, Road
National Treasures exhibit
Road Transportation
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Related Publication
Kendrick, Kathleen M. and Peter C. Liebhold. Smithsonian Treasures of American History
Publication title
Treasures of American History online exhibition
Publication author
National Museum of American History
Publication URL

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