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The Selden Patent

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

The Selden Patent

The Selden Patent, as it came to be known over the years, was the first United States patent for a vehicle that could be called an automobile (although it was titled Road Engine).  The patent was filed May 8, 1879 and officially patented November 5, 1895.

George B. Selden, the original patent holder, sold his patent rights in 1899 to William C. Whitney, and together they would use it not to build motor cars but to collect royalties from other automobile manufacturers through the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers.  It was some time later that he built his own vehicles under the Selden marque.

Henry Ford fought the patent, and after an 8-year legal battle initially lost the case based on a ruling that any gasoline-powered self-propelled vehicle fell under the Selden patent but later won on appeal on the basis that Selden's automobile was powered by a Brayton-cycle engine where there are separate cylinders for compression and power, whereas Ford's (and most other automakers') were based on the Otto-cycle engine where compression, ignition, power, and exhaust all take place in the same cylinder.  This is the basis of most modern automobile gasoline engines today.

Page Sections
Article Index


DateDocument Name & DetailsDocuments
5 November 1895Road Engine
United States Patent US 549,160
George B. Selden

- 349KB - 6 pages

Article Index

16 September 1909MOTOR CAR PATENTS UPHELD BY COURTThe New York Times
14 August 1910SELDEN DECREES VALID.The New York Times

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