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He Invented the Car Because They Said He Did

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By Grant Davies

On this day, (-8),  in 1895, a man named George Selden  invented the automobile. Well, at least that’s what the US government, in its infinite wisdom, decided on this day.

He didn’t invent it on this day. In fact he didn’t invent it on any day. But the government, through its patent office, decided he did, on this day. It’s kind of confusing, but then, patent law can be as confusing as the writing on this site.

Anyway, George was a lawyer so he knew the ins and outs of patent law better than most. He took advantage of that knowledge and gained the legal right to scam a bunch of other people who actually did invent stuff related to automobiles.

According to he won “U.S. Patent No. 549,160 for an “improved road engine” powered by a “liquid-hydrocarbon engine of the compression type.” In other words, a car.

He never built one. In fact, for the filing, he just copied the design of one he had seen some years earlier at the 1872 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. Anything worth admiring is worth stealing I guess.

So a few years later, in 1899, he sold the rights to his “invention” to a group of investors (or criminal co-conspirators, as you wish) who called themselves the “Electric Vehicle Company.” They in turn sued a company, the “Winton Motor Carriage Company”, the largest car maker at that time, for manufacturing gasoline powered automobiles. It didn’t take long for the Winton company to see the value in paying the ransom and they struck a deal with the legal thugs. The courts agreed to the deal and upheld Selden’s patent in 1903.

Soon a whole bunch of car companies who wanted to be part of a monopoly CARtel (pun intended) joined in with the parties to that lawsuit and formed the “Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers.” They then sued anyone who dared to make a car without paying them protection money. (See? I told you it was confusing.)

Later a guy named Henry Ford had a different idea. A few lawsuits and appeals later he put an end to the whole scam.

To celebrate legal extortion and monopolies, find a bar and have a few beers. But don’t forget to make a toast to the overpriced brew you are sipping because it’s illegal for the bar owner to buy his beer from anyone other than a “legal” distributor. Cheers!

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