When Was the First Car Accident? Interesting Facts You Probably Don’t Know.

Vintage car in a minor accident with a tree, with the driver gesturing in surprise.

If you search for “when was the first car accident”, you’ll find information about several different events. The truth is, there are many documented “Firsts” for car accidents. Here are the key events:

  1. The first recorded car accident in the world occurred in 1869 in the Irish Midlands, when Mary Ward, a scientist, died from injuries sustained in a steam-powered vehicle accident. This was also the first car accident and the first accident that resulted in a fatality.
  2. The first car accident in the U.S. was in 1891 and occurred when John William Lambert’s vehicle hit a tree root and crashed into a hitching post.
  3. The first car accident involving a pedestrian was in New York City in 1896. Henry Wells lost control of his car and hit a bicyclist, Evelyn Thompson.
  4. The first pedestrian death in the United States occurred in 1899 in New York City when Henry H. Bliss was struck by an electric powered taxi while getting out of a streetcar.

There are some pretty interesting facts in here, so we’re going to dig into the first two stories and explore the fascinating details behind these groundbreaking events.

The first car accident in the world

The first car accident in the world happened on August 31, 1869 in the small town of Birr, located in the Irish Midlands, when Mary Ward fell off a steam-powered vehicle. The accident resulted in her untimely death, making her the first person to be killed in a car accident. This event has the tragic notoriety of being both the first car accident and the first car crash to result in a fatality.

A photo of Mary Ward, the first person to die from a car accident
A photo of Mary Ward, the first person to die from a car accident. By Unknown author – Parsonstown | The genius of the Parsons family | Mary Ward, Public Domain

On August 31, 1869, in the quiet town of Parsonstown, now known as Birr, in County Offaly, Ireland (about two hours west of Dublin), a groundbreaking yet tragic event occurred that marked a significant moment in the history of transportation. Mary Ward, an accomplished 19th-century scientist and writer, became the first known person to die in an automobile accident in the United Kingdom and the world.

The vehicle involved was an experimental steam-powered car, a marvel of its time, built by Mary’s cousins, Charles Algernon Parsons and Richard Parsons. The Parsons were eager to test the limits of their invention, which they hoped would revolutionize how people traveled. The car itself was cumbersome and challenging to maneuver, reflecting the early and experimental nature of automotive engineering.

Mary Ward, known for her keen interest in science and technology, joined her cousins for what was to be a historic ride. As they navigated through the local roads, the excitement of this new form of transport was palpable. However, the vehicle’s design was not yet refined for safe handling, particularly on the less-developed roads of rural Ireland.

A steam car, similar to the one Mary Ward was riding when the first car accident occurred.
A steam car, similar to the one Mary Ward was riding when the first car accident occurred. By Oaktree b – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Tragedy struck when the vehicle, unable to handle a sharp turn, threw Mary from her seat. The fall proved fatal. She was tragically caught under the steam car’s iron wheels. Mary was rushed to the house of a local doctor within moments, but her injuries were too severe – bruises, cuts, broken bones, and bleeding. There was nothing he could do. Mary passed away at the age of 42 from a broken neck.

Mary Ward’s unfortunate death is not just a footnote in history but a pivotal moment that underscores the human cost of technological advancement. Her story remains a poignant reminder of the need for caution and responsibility in the face of innovation.

While this accident is considered the first recorded car accident involving a fatality, it should be noted that the vehicle involved was quite different from the cars we know today. Nevertheless, it marked a significant moment in the history of car accidents and the pursuit of safer transportation.

Interesting facts about the first car accident

  • Mary was a well-known artist, naturalist, author, and astronomer. She was the first woman to write and publish a book on the microscope despite the fact that most publishers wouldn’t accept book manuscripts from women.
  • She was also one of only three women on the mailing list for the Royal Astronomical Society.
  • Mary Ward is the great-grandmother of Doctor Who actress Lalla Ward.
  • You can still buy Mary’s first book, A World of Wonders Revealed by the Microscope.
  • The car is said to have been traveling at 3.5-4 miles per hour.

The first car accident in the U.S.

The first car accident in the U.S. happened in 1891 in Ohio City, Ohio, when John William Lambert‘s own invention – a gasoline automobile – ran over a tree root, lost control, and hit a a hitching post.

In 1891, horse-drawn carriages still clattered down the muddy roads of America. Lambert, driven by curiosity and mechanical prowess, had constructed a contraption that was unlike anything on the streets at that time. His vehicle was a three-wheeled gasoline-powered carriage, a daring departure from the steam and electric cars that sporadically appeared in those days.

Lambert built his car in secret, and took test drives at night. On one of those test drives, Lambert took his car through the streets of Ohio City. The vehicle, with its rudimentary engine, clattered along at a pace that was brisk for its time but would scarcely ruffle a pedestrian’s hair by today’s standards.

However, the American roads of the 1890s were not crafted with automobiles in mind. They were uneven, laden with obstacles that ranged from stray animals to unexpected dips and rises.

It was a tree root, a seemingly innocuous hazard, that altered the course of Lambert’s journey. As he drove down the road, the vehicle struck the root, jolting it violently. The shock sent the automobile careening out of Lambert’s control and towards a hitching post—commonplace in an era still dominated by horses. The collision was inevitable. Lambert’s vehicle crashed into the hitching post, coming to a sudden and dramatic halt. Remarkably, he sustained only minor injuries.

This event is a testament to the trial and error that accompanied the dawn of the automobile. Lambert’s continued work on automotive designs and his later successes, including the founding of the Lambert Automobile Company, which produced cars until 1917, all stemmed from his relentless pursuit of innovation. Cars, roads, and safety regulations have come a long way.

Interesting facts about the first car accident in the U.S.

  • Many people think Henry Ford invented the car, but it was actually John William Lambert. The car he was driving when the first car accident occurred, was the very first gas-powered automobile in the U.S.
  • The “horseless carriage” Lambert invented could only go about 10 miles per hour.
  • Lambert owned over 600 patents, including the first complete gasoline engine patent in America.
  • The first gas-powered automobile in the U.S., invented and built by Lambert, sold zero units.
  • The first car, the one that Lambert wrecked, had three wheels, not four.
  • If you visit Ohio City, you can find a plaque placed at the exact location where the wreck took place.

The history of car accidents dates back to significant milestones across the world. From the first crash in the world to the first auto accident in the U.S., these events have shaped our understanding of road safety. Exploring these historical incidents not only provides insights into the evolution of transportation but also highlights the importance of safety measures in modern-day driving. If you are intrigued by the origins of car accidents and their impact on society, delve deeper into the past by downloading our detailed guide now.

Finally, here’s a shameless plug: History lessons aside, if you’ve been in a car accident and the medical bills are piling up, call Titanium Law Firm. Car insurance companies will do all they can to pay you the least amount as possible. A lawyer will make sure you don’t fall for your tricks and you get the compensation you need.

personal injury client with money from car wreck case

Frequently Asked Questions

When was the first car accident in the world?

The first recorded car accident in the world occurred on August 31, 1869, in the Irish Midlands. Mary Ward, an accomplished scientist, died from injuries sustained in a steam-powered vehicle accident.

What was the first death from a car accident?

The first recorded death from a car accident occurred on August 31, 1869, in the Irish Midlands. Mary Ward, a scientist and naturalist, died after being thrown from an experimental steam-powered vehicle and sustaining fatal injuries.

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