- George Selden held the first “road locomotive” patent.
- It was assumed it was a patent for automobiles and Selden received royalties from automakers for many years.
- Henry Ford refused to pay royalties and challenged the patent.
- In 1911, the courts determined current automobiles (particularly their engines) were not the same as the road locomotive and royalty payments were discontinued.
This 1912 Selden Roadster was modified for use by a Rochester, New York, fire department battalion chief and is equipped with a bell, fire extinguishers, electric starter, tool box and electric head lamps.
George B. Selden was born in 1846 in Clarkson, New York. He became a patent attorney in Rochester in 1871. In 1877, Selden improved upon George Brayton’s 2-stroke gas engine and outlined a vehicle in which to use it. In 1879, he filed for patent rights on a “road locomotive” and in 1895 the patent was granted, the popular assumption being that Selden had patented the automobile. For years, many automobile manufacturers paid royalties to Selden, but Henry Ford refused and forced Selden to sue in order to test the patent in court. In January 1911, the courts declared the Selden patent “valid but not infringed,” observing that Ford and other manufacturers were using Otto 4-stroke engines and not Brayton 2-stroke engines.
Selden himself had begun producing automobiles in 1906, but the Selden Motor Vehicle Company stopped automobile manufacturing in 1914. The company continued to make commercial vehicles until 1932, the year George Selden died.