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.

Date Made: 1879Patent Date: 1895-11-05

Inventor: Selden, George B.

Location: Currently not on view

Associated Place: United States: New York, Rochester

See more items in: Work and Industry: Transportation, Road, Industry & Manufacturing, National Treasures exhibit, Transportation, Road Transportation


Exhibition Location:

Related Web Publication:

Related Publication: Kendrick, Kathleen M. and Peter C. Liebhold. Smithsonian Treasures of American History, National Museum of American History. Treasures of American History online exhibition

Data Source: National Museum of American History

Id Number: TR.252678Catalog Number: 252678Accession Number: 49064Patent Number: 549,160

Object Name: patent model, automobile, gasolineObject Type: Patent Model

Measurements: overall: 7 1/2 in x 6 1/2 in x 11 in; 19.05 cm x 16.51 cm x 27.94 cm


Record Id: nmah_1305689

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