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EARLY CATHOLIC AUTOMOBILISTS: FERDINAND VERBIEST

Xiping Zhang:

[Jesuit priest and missionary to China] Ferdinand Verbiest was a man with ingenious mind. He made many mechanical equipments and instruments by himself. In the year of 1679, he made a thermometer and hygrometer successfully and gave them to Emperor Kangxi. The most astonishing record was that Ferdinand Verbiest made a steam-motive vehicle in Beijing, and this vehicle can be called the first car in the world.

In a book named Astronomia Europaea, Ferdinand Verbiest introduced this steam-motive automatic vehicle in detail. He wrote: 3 years ago, when I was studying the power of steam, a small wooden dolly with four wheels was made. Its length was 2 feet, and easy to run. There was a small oven with full burning coal in the middle of the dolly. On the oven, there was a boiler. A copper gear was installed in the front wheel. This gear joggled with another gear installed in the other vertical spindle. The dolly would move along with the motion of the vertical spindle. When the steam from the boiler sprayed outside through a small hose, the lamina would be impacted, the air steam would make the whole wheel run quickly, then the dolly would be moved forward. Under certain speed, the dolly could move continuously for more than one hour…

Ferdinand Verbiest also designed brake, helm and steering wheel for the dolly… Basically, the small dolly possessed all the main functions of a modern auto.

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