The first Italian automobile in a decree of 1836

by Federico Quagliuolo

The first car prototype of the history of Italy? It was born thanks to a decree of Ferdinand II of Bourbon issued to Capodimonte in 1836, to tune the introduction in Sicily of a "steam car without the need for rotaje“.

The royal decree, number 3337 of 1836, guarantees Giuseppe Natale and Tommaso Anselmi the concession for the introduction into the Kingdom of a first car prototype. We are still a long way from introducing cars circulating normally on the road, which will happen in 1864, but it is a very important one milestone for the history of Italian motoring.

Ferdinand II automobile decree
The decree of Ferdinand II, reported by Angelo Forgione

At the origins of the automobile

The idea of a "cart moved independently"Dates back even to Middle Ages, as evidenced by a text by the Franciscan friar Roger Bacon who, in the twelfth century, prophesied: "one day the wagons will move by themselves, without the need for animals“.

In order to imagine the first car, however, we will have to wait several centuries: it was 1769 and the French Joseph Nicolas Cugnot made the first steam wagon (... and crashed into a wall because forgot the brakes!). It was an innovation which caused a sensation throughout Europe and, from there, began a race to first engine, which was in everyone's dreams, but the technology of the time was still too much unripe: Scientists devoted entire careers to developing a fast and independent means of transport.

The train was the direct consequence of this research and, precisely in this aspect, Naples introduced the first railway into Italy thanks to theattention of the Bourbon dynasty towards technological innovations which brought, as we would say today, great "media impact" and great international prestige.

The first Italian automobile in a decree of 1836
Collection of the decrees of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies for 1836

And what happened to the Sicilian car?

It was never produced. The decree of Ferdinand II, which granted the exclusivity for the production to the two Sicilian entrepreneurs, it had no practical effect.
The text was peremptory: entrepreneurs would have the exclusive on the production for 5 years. The condition would have been that of to market the first car within one year of the promulgation of the decree. This condition was not respected, probably for the very high production costs of the boiler and for the obvious difficulty of successfully marketing the autonomous car prototype. In short, better to invest in the heavy train industry, as then happened in Naples a few years later.

The first Italian automobile in a decree of 1836
Reproduction of the first Italian car, Vincenzo Manzetti Museum

The timing for the introduction of a 'automobile for civil use, on the other hand, they were really too immature. The first steam boilers required more 60 kilos of coal to get up to speed and move 4 people for about 2 kilometers to the enviable speed of 7-8km / h, which is little more than a brisk walk. The vehicles they weighed an average of 4 tons and they were very difficult to maneuver and brake. The brakes, on the other hand, were an immense problem even for the first real cars, which at the beginning of the twentieth century caused countless accidents.

The automobile in Italy finally arrived in 1864, thirty years after the Bourbon patent, in the opposite pole of the Bel Paese. It was in fact introduced by a brilliant and visionary inventor: it was the Aosta Valley Innocenzo Manzetti, author, among other things, of the prototype of robots, of the hydraulic pump, of the machine for making pasta and of the telephone.

Sicily and Naples, which could have been precursors of the automotive industry, have a much more bitter record today: the oldest car park in Italy.

-Federico Quagliuolo

The story is dedicated to Angela Pellegrino for her generous donation. Support Storie di Napoli too: we are independent thanks to you!

Decree 3337 of 1836

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