HomeCar CulturePBS examines ‘The Car’ in its Breakthrough series

PBS examines ‘The Car’ in its Breakthrough series


“The Car” is the subject of the four episodes of the PBS series Breakthrough: The Ideas That Changed The World, is scheduled to be televised May 8 at 10 p.m. (EDT).

“Go for a ride through the 9,000-year history of the ultimate freedom machine: the car,” PBS promises in its news release.

“The car has transformed the world and revolutionized how humans live, and its development is an incredible story full of astonishing twists and unlikely turns,” the network adds. “From its roots in dogsleds to Henry Ford’s affordable and assembly line-built Model T, viewers will also meet the scientists working on the next generation of self-driving automobiles.”

Bertha Benz drove her husband’s motorcar on the first road trip

The Breakthrough series was created to tell “the amazing story of how humans changed the world” and is told through examining six “revolutionary inventions.”

For “The Car,” visionaries to be featured include:

  • Thomas Newcomen, British engineer and inventor “who also was Baptist preacher and blacksmith who invented the atmospheric steam engine — the first practical fuel-burning engine –  in 1712. His invention led to the development of James Watt’s engine.”

•  John “Iron-Mad” Wilkinson, English industrialist “who pioneered the use of cast iron during the Industrial Revolution. His invention, the precision boring machine, created cast iron cylinders which were eventually used in James Watt’s steam engines.”

•  James Watt, Scottish inventor, mechanical engineer and chemist “who  invented the steam engine, which played an integral role in the Industrial Revolution. He improved Thomas Newcomen’s steam engine with his Watt steam engine in 1776.”

•  Karl Friedrich Benz, German engine designer and automobile engineer who “invented the world’s first practical automobile powered by an internal-combustion engine – known as the Motorwagen or Motorcar – in 1885 and secured the patent – Benz Patent-Motorwagen Number 1 – in January 1886.

•  Bertha Benz, German automotive pioneer (and wife of Karl Benz), “she was the driver of the world’s first long-distance test drive, the inventor of the world’s first brake pads and staged the world’s first automobile publicity stunt.”

• Henry Ford, American industrialist and “creator of one of the earliest prototypes of a gas-fueled vehicle called the Quadricycle, which helped solve New York City’s horse-manure problem. He heavily promoted and sponsored factory production of automobiles resulting in his company producing a Model T an average of 24-seconds.”

•  William “Pa” Klann, Ford Motor Company production engineer who saw the Swift & Company slaughter house assembly line in Chicago and thus was inspired to create mass production of auto parts at Ford.

Among the experts making on-screen appearances during “The Car” are wheelwright and chariot maker Robert Hurford, theoretical physics professor Jim Al-Khalili, race car driver Jutta Kleinschmidt, mechanical engineering professor Chris Geddes, architect Danny Forster and car collector Jay Leno.

Breakthrough, produced by Bigger Bang Productions, tells the story of how humans changed the world through “six iconic objects that modern people take for granted.” They are the telescope, airplane, robot, car, rocket and smart phone.

Larry Edsall
Larry Edsall
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.


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