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The Spark | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

The Spark

The Spark | Wisconsin Historical Society

Hwy. 11, W limits of Racine, Racine County 

In 1873 the Rev. Dr. J. W. Carhart of Racine designed and operated the first light self-propelled highway vehicle in the United States and probably the first in the world. He named it "the Spark." It was driven by a two-cylinder steam engine, steered by a lever, and had a speed of five miles per hour. When his "infernal machine" first appeared, the hideous noise created by its operation caused the peo­ple of Racine to threaten to run Carhart out of town. Carhart seems to have agreed with the general opinion of his invention but added, "It must be remembered that at the time there was no liquid fuel, ball bearings or rubber tires." At the 1908 International Automobile Exposition held in Paris, France, Carhart was addressed as the "Father of Automobiles" and received a cash award and a certificate of honor for his invention.

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[Source: McBride, Sarah Davis. History Just Ahead (Madison:WHS, 1999).]