From Carriages to Automobiles

  The modern city of the last two hundred years was continuously modified by the progress of engineering and the comfort it determined. One of the innovations in the cities was transportation. And in the big cities people’s transportation brought forward technical problems of speed and comfort which had to be addressed. Speed was resolved by shortening the distance between destinations, while comfort was heightened by eliminating the agglomeration and physical effort in maneuvering the moving vehicle. This was largely the evolution of transportation from coaches to automobiles.  

From the carts and wagons of the local merchants, to the commercial caravans arriving from the Balkans with Oriental goods, to the carriages arriving from Ardeal and then the bulky budka carriages harder to squeeze on Bucharest’s narrow streets, each of them was a fragment of day-to-day history. They were then replaced by silent and sturdy phaetons and diligences commissioned from Austria and Germany, all throughout the 19th century.


For personal use and city rides, people were using broughams, cabriolets, calashes and berlines. And in public services, the guild of coach drivers appeared at the mid of the 19th century, when their district at the outskirts of Bucharest appeared as well. During the last three decades of the 19th century major changes took place in the speed of the modern city, and somewhere between 1890 and 1910, the automobile appeared. First, Toma Blându’s tramcars pulled by horses created a sensation, but they were soon replaced by mechanized means of transport – the electric tramways. But, among cabs, broughams, carriages and tramcars, some new, strange things slowly started to appear. A sort of fragile velocipede but with four wheels which, at the beginning, couldn’t fit more than one person. Unlike other mechanisms of transport, this strange piece made from the combination of hundreds of other pieces, had an explosive evolution both through the improvement of models and their aesthetic variety. Automobiles appeared in Romania timidly towards 1900-1910, but only a decade later Bucharest was a space for showing-off one’s cars.

The automobile took over the public space after the First World War. The first steam engine automobile was brought to Bucharest in 1880 by D. Văsescu, a young student from Paris, and had rubber wheels. It wasn’t until four years later that Dunlop invented the pneumatic tyres which offered extra comfort and adhesive power compared to those with rubber bands.

The automobile evolved from the old carriages. Thus, the carriage called berlin, due to the fact it had appeared in Berlin at the end of the 17th century, became an automobile with four doors and side windows; the brougham, the two-seats closed carriage, became a car with short and tall coachwork; the cabriolet, the London carriage with two wheels, two seats and the coachman seated at the back, became the cabrio automobile, a two-seats convertible car. Then, the Romanian word for driver, șofer, comes from the French chauffeur, which means fireman. The first automobile, a 12 hp petrol engine Benz, and the first American car, Oldsmobile, appeared in Romania during 1888-1898. The first automobile with an internal combustion engine could be found in Bucharest in 1900 and it was a 15 hp Penhard car brought from Liège, Belgium, by Gh. Basil Assan, the son of Gh. Assan.

In just one generation, the automobile evolved from being a chic, retro-glamour item of personal use for the rich, to a common sight and integral part of city. Of course, until the beginning of the inter-war period there were very few rules for the first generation of drivers.

The rules were rather technical: the car had to have two headlights at the front and one at the back; it had to run only on the right side of the road, by the side of the sidewalk and not on the middle of the street where trams, carriages, cabs and later public buses also ran; drivers had to stop at intersections and around pedestrians, because there weren’t any crosswalks yet. Rules gradually became more diverse and the driving licence exam was introduced in time, as the number of traffic participants grew significantly in the 1930s.

From coach to automobile, somewhere between 1848-1948, is a very interesting history for the city dweller. This history meant many changes in our lives: the shortening of time spent travelling between destinations and an increase in the rhythm of daily chores.  Then clothing change because cars, regardless of their designs, couldn’t fit crinoline dresses or large summer hats. Fashion changed, becoming more fitted on the body as a need to adapt to the new kinds of transportation and moving loisirs.  . The automobile changed the ways of spending free time. The lure of reaching far destinations in a short period of time and with maximum comfort, gradually determined an addiction to automobiles, their owners preferring long journeys and few breaks. The automobile was a closed vehicle. And as time went by it became even more closed. Unlike carriages, where people could be seen openly, directly, with ample gestures of greeting, the automobile restricted visibility and access, offering in exchange safety, air conditioning and heating.

The automobile is the first vehicle which offered heating. Then, in order to chase the monotony of long trips, it also included a radio. Nowadays, the car tends to become an anatomical extension of the human body, many of us preferring to use the car even for domestic destinations.

An article by Adrian Majuru