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What is the (most likely) first Instrument board on an automobile?

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Hi guys. I am currently not an antique cars collector but I have always been interested in the engineering history and the developmental milestones of the automobile.


From my current understanding, many safety features we have on vehicles today have contestable timelines. For instance, a lot of people are unsure about when and which company introduced the red brake/tail lights to a car. The same contestable timeline seems to also apply to the history of the Instrument board.

If I am not mistaken, people first used to calculate their speed by the use of postings on a stretch of road.


But what is the - even though it might be arguable -  first instrument board with the odometer, speedometer, and/or rpm dial? What does it look like and was it made mostly out of brass? How was it made visible at night; was it lit up by oil/carbide lamps or was it - pretty much -  immediately designed with lightbulbs in mind? 





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That should take you back to the pre-1910 era when things like tops, windshields, and lights were optional. The dashboard would have been... a board, in front of the driver's feet. A speedometer, if equipped, was probably screwed to the surface of the board. It may have included an odometer. Any indication of RPM would be extremely unlikely. I doubt that existed until much later. The speedometer would have been brass, as was most automotive trim until about 1913-1915. There was a company called "Neverout' that made a miniature brass light to light your dash. It looked like a sidelamp and probably burned kerosene. I imagine those came later than the speedometer, and they were never common. Quite a few cars didn't even have headlights in those days.


There were hundreds of automakers before World War 1. I think it might be pretty tough to nail down who did it first.

Edited by Bloo (see edit history)
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I would say the boiler water level gauge on 1899 Locomobiles which was located on the right side of the driver below the seat. It was viewed through a mirror on the toe board that faced back to it.  Also the boiler pressure and fuel tank pressure gauges.  I’m sure other steam carriages that predate 1899 would likely have similar instruments but I have no experience with anything older.

sorry just realized the original question was asking for first speedometer and tachometer.

Edited by Modeleh (see edit history)
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Necessary controls located within the drivers reach came first. Early cars often had things like drip oilers and ignition components ;trembler coils and similar, mounted on the firewall right in front of the driver as they needed frequent monitoring and adjustment. As vehicles progressed and things like speed limits were effected, accessory's like clocks and mile-o--meters and speedometers became popular.

The firewall became the logical place to mount such items. At some point in the late pre- teens or early teens the dashboard as we now think of it came along at about the same time bodywork in front of the seats became popular. Prior to that most vehicles simply had the flat surface of the firewall for mounting controls and accessory's.

the extended cowl bodywork made it difficult to see and adjust items mounted to the firewall so a separate panel was fitted ; usually underneath the back edge of the cowl, to bring things back to a position where the driver could access them.

Racing cars generally adopted forward bodywork before regular use vehicles as added protection from flying mud, stones and similar hazards to the driver and sometimes riding mechanic in high speed events. The first dash board was possibly fitted to  a specialised racing or record breaking machine. Who was the first is any ones guess.

Greg in Canada



Edited by 1912Staver (see edit history)
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The dash board was originally a wooden board that stood up ahead of the seat of a buggy, to deflect mud dashed up by the horse's hooves. First car equipped with a speedometer was the 1901 curved dash Oldsmobile runabout, quite a feat considering the speedo as we know it was not invented until 1902. The Warner Electric company pioneered the auto speedometer, patterned after a cut-meter they made to measure the cutting speed of machine tools. They promoted the use of their speedos so effectively that by 1910 9 out of 10 speedos in use were made by Warner.

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