Cugnot's steam traction engine, 1770.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Model (scale 1:5). Nicholas Cugnot (1725-1804), a French military engineer, was one of the first people to attempt to build a self-propelled portable steam engine. He devised this three-wheeled vehicle, which could carry four people, but was primarily intended to be a means of towing artillery without using horses. In 1769, he demonstrated his first machine to government officials in Paris, with the machine running for 15 minutes and reaching a speed of 2 mph. A second trial before the public culminated in an accident when the engine crashed into a brick wall, resulting in Cugnot and his invention being discredited.