THE MODERN AUTOMOTIVE era began with a competition. In the early 1890s there was much interest in the emerging technology of horseless carriages, which promised to combine the speed of a train with the flexibility of a horse and the convenience of a bicycle.
Le Petit Journal, a French newspaper with a knack for publicity stunts, decided to hold a contest to discover the best method of propulsion: steam, electricity or petrol engine. It invited entrants to drive from Paris to Rouen, a distance of 79 miles. Their vehicles would be judged not by their speed but whether they were safe, easy to use and economical to run.
The competition, held in July 1894, attracted crowds of onlookers as 21 contraptions set out from Paris. Only 17 vehicles stayed the course; along the way, seven dogs were run over and one cyclist was injured.