Claim: An 1875 report by the Horseless Carriage Committee warned about the dangers of gasoline-fueled vehicles.
Example: [Collected via e-mail, June 2007]
"A new source of power called gasoline has been produced by a Boston engineer. Instead of burning the fuel under a boiler, it is exploded inside the cylinder of an engine. The dangers are obvious. Stores of gasoline in the hands of people interested primarily in profit would constitute a fire and explosive hazard of the first rank.
"Horseless carriages propelled by gasoline might attain speeds of 14 or even
Horseless Carriage Committee, U. S. Congressional Record,
Origins: Many of us take especial delight in items that document how people of earlier times severely misjudged their futures, either holding expectations of a vastly improved world that proved to be ridiculously grandiose, or expressing woefully misplaced fears and concerns about dangers that never came to pass. The same principle can be applied in reverse, however: One common form of satire is to lampoon a particular position on a modern political or social issue by projecting it into the past to highlight its ridiculousness. (Our Satire section includes some examples of this technique.)
Into which category does this purported 1875 report by the "Horseless Carriage Committee" warning about the dangers of gasoline and gasoline-powered vehicles
The first clue is that the dating of the report appears to be anachronistic. The year 1875 was the dawn of experiments in building gasoline-fueled, internal combustion engines and using them to power wheeled vehicles; the term
Researchers at the Library of Congress expressed similar thinking in responding to a query about this item:
This in fact an urban legend. We checked "Committees in the U.S. Congress," published by
We also believe this statement is anachronistic. In 1876 Nicholas Otto of Germany invented and built the first gas motor engine and then built it into a motorcycle. Subsequently in 1885 Karl Benz designed and built the first practical automobile to be powered by an internal combustion engine. The first gasoline powered automobile built in the United States was in 1891 by John Lampert and was a three wheeled motor vehicle. The first U.S. patent for a gasoline powered automobile was issued in 1895 and the first U.S. company to manufacture automobiles was founded in 1896 by the Duryea brothers.
In fact, both lines of thinking are correct: The "Horseless Carriage Committee" report dates not from 1875 but from the late 1950s, and it is a bit of fiction created for (and excerpted from) a much longer editorial intended to point out the dangers of the
The differences between the government of Julius Caesar and of Dwight Eisenhower are minor and of academic interest. The parallels are startling and numerous.
Today, in this world of scientific advancement, we live under the shadow of political reaction. Let something new come to the attention of the politicians and steps are immediately taken to control it, to limit it, or to repeal it. If none of these things is feasible, the politicians then devise a program whereby they can own it outright.
It is said that Tiberius Caesar cut off the head of a Phoenecian glass blower who had developed a formula for flexible glass. Such a glass, according to Caesar, would have upset the economy and might have become more valuable than gold.
Currently, our Washington officials have blanketed pay television, put a crimp in railroad operations, tied the hands of business men by means of taxes and laws
To illustrate just how the same old fallacies repeat year after year, we reproduce here a special report by a Joint Congressional Committee on the subject of the horseless carriage. This report was made as a result of the "emergency" occasioned by the development of the internal combustion engine, in the year 1875.
"A new source of power, which burns a distillate of kerosene, has been produced by a Boston engineer. Instead of burning the fuel under a boiler, it is exploded inside the cylinder of the engine. This
"This discovery begins a new era in the history of civilization. It may some day prove to be more revolutionary in the development of human society than the invention of the wheel, the use of metals, or the steam engine. Never in history has society been confronted with a power so full of potential danger and at the same time so full of promise for the future of man and for the peace of the world.
"The dangers are obvious. Stores of gasoline in the hands of the people interested primarily in profit would constitute a fire and explosive hazard of the first rank. Horseless carriages propelled by gasoline engines might attain speeds of
"These measures may seem drastic and far-reaching, but the discovery with which we are dealing involves forces of a nature too dangerous to fit into any of our usual concepts."
As a precise modern parallel, today's government controls all atomic power. Until such times as our nation's businessmen can get their hands on this tremendous source of energy without government regulation, ownership or control, this power will be used principally for destructive purposes. Only individual free men can and will convert energy into useful channels. Governments are political and war-making entities and as such will inevitably follow the same old collectivist road.
Last updated: 24 February 2015
Bernhart, Rollie. "Somebody or Something." The Vidette-Messenger. 14 April 1973 (p. 16). Arizona Daily Sun. "News and Views." 13 September 1961 (p. 1). The Brownsville Herald. "Congressmen Wanted to Control Gasoline." 17 April 1958 (p. 23). The Brownsville Herald. "Thinking As It Used to Be." 10 December 1959 (p. 16). The Odessa American. "Nothing Has Been Learned." 27 May 1958 (p. 12).