Home WORLD A Replica Of Cugnot’s 1766 Steam Trike – World’s First Powered Vehicle

A Replica Of Cugnot’s 1766 Steam Trike – World’s First Powered Vehicle

A replica of Cugnot’s 1766 steam trike, in full working order, at the Avignon Motor Festival, 2011. The original sits in the Arts et Metiers museum in Paris.In the early days of motorised vehicle development, a number of experimenters built steam-powered vehicles with three wheels.

image credit:  LUDOVIC.R

The first steam tricycle – and probably the first true self-propelled land vehicle – was Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot’s 1769 Fardier à vapeur (steam dray), a three-wheeled machine with a top speed of around 3 km/h originally designed for hauling artillery. Failing to meet the army’s design criteria, no further development was undertaken.

image credit:  LUDOVIC.R

The vehicle weighed about 2.5 tonnes tare, and had two wheels at the rear and one in the front where the horses would normally have been. The front wheel supported a steam boiler and driving mechanism. The power unit was articulated to the “trailer”, and was steered from there by means of a double handle arrangement.


After running a small number of trials, variously described as being between Paris and Vincennes and at Meudon, the project was abandoned. This ended the French Army’s first experiment with mechanical vehicles.

Even so, in 1772, King Louis XV granted Cugnot a pension of 600 livres a year for his innovative work, and the experiment was judged interesting enough for the fardier to be kept at the Arsenal. In 1800 it was transferred to the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers, where it can still be seen today.