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JESUITICA: First automobile

verbiest_01In the history of the car, the Flemish Jesuit Ferdinand Verbiest, a missionary at the Chinese Imperial court, is credited with inventing the first motor vehicle, as a toy for the Emperor. Built and tested in 1679, it was two feet long and was operated by an eolipyle that warmed the embers. A steam jet struck a horizontal wheel with blades which meshed with the front wheels. It was tested in the courtyard of the Imperial Palace in Beijing to the great enthusiasm of the emperor and spectators. Verbiest was an astronomer and mathematician who earned his Presidency of the Board of Mathematics in a competition with Chinese astronomers. He was the only Westerner in Chinese history to ever receive the honour of a posthumous name by the Emperor. In the illustration, a stylised image of Verbiest’s car is regarded by his Belgian compatriot, Tintin.