George Selden patents internal combustion engine

While his father was defending Susan B. Anthony at her trial, George Selden was looking at the practicalities of horseless, engine-powered carriages. Some of the first internal combustion engines were initially demonstrated at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, where Selden first saw them, but their sheer size and weight made them impractical in personal vehicles. Selden’s genius lay in being able to shrink the engine down to a more manageable size.

On this day, November 5, in 1895, George Selden patented his internal combustion engine, along with a carriage it was meant to power. Interestingly, Selden’s witness at the time of the filing was a banker by the name of George Eastman, who would go on to create Eastman Kodak.

Soon after Selden made his patent, a group of carmakers gathered around it to coordinate prices and divide the market between them. Anyone attempting to produce and sell cars independently was sued for infringing on Selden’s patent: to operate, they had to pay and join the cartel. Their monopoly worked for a few years, until an entrepreneur, Henry Ford, set out to build cars for the masses rather than the elite, powered by engines that an appeals court ruled did not infringe on Selden’s patent.