Obama Gaffe: America Didn’t Invent Automobile
De Dion motor carriage #2. circa 1901.
Credit: Library of Congress

President Obama's speech to Congress last night might have emphasized urgency over historical accuracy when he stated, "And I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it."

Many inventors contributed to the rise of the car in modern-day life. But the U.S. Library of Congress credits German inventor Karl Benz with creating the first true automobile that ran on an internal combustion engine.

Benz came out with his patented car around 1885, or about the same time when fellow Germans Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach produced a four-wheeled automobile with a four-stroke engine. The names of these inventors live on in modern car companies such as Daimler AG and its Mercedes-Benz division.

By contrast, U.S. automotive pioneer Henry Ford did not start rolling out his mass-produced Model T cars until 1908. His claim to fame lies in popularizing automobiles as a common form of transportation, according to the Henry Ford Museum. Pedestrians and bikers may not thank him as much.

Obama's words came during a time when struggling Detroit automotive manufacturers have cut thousands of workers. General Motors and Chrysler have received $17.4 billion from Congress since December, and are asking for a further $21.6 billion.

Meanwhile, Americans have already begun shifting their driving habits by flocking to car-sharing services such as Zipcar. Some even try to squeeze every possible mile out of each gas gallon by practicing hypermiling.

Those automotive manufacturers that survive seem increasingly focused on electric cars as the roadmap to the future. But far from the placid-lookingToyota Prius and other hybrid cars of today, some of those future cars could boast a mean, green punch.