There has been a need for test drivers to ensure that vehicles perform well, are safe, and meet other performance criteria ever since the first automobile was manufactured in the late 1800s. In the early days of the automotive industry, cars were tested by engineers, designers, and automotive company owners.
Early test drives were often conducted on the streets of Detroit, Michigan, the headquarters of many automotive manufacturers. Charles B. King, an automotive industry pioneer, became the first person in the United States to test drive a gasoline-powered automobile on American streets (in Detroit) on March 6, 1896. The Detroit Free Press commented the next morning: "The first horseless carriage seen in this city was out on the streets last night. It is the invention of Charles B. King, a Detroiter, and its progress up down Woodward Avenue about 11 o' clock caused a deal of comment, people crowding around it so that its progress was impeded. The apparatus seemed to work all right, and went at the rate of five or six miles an hour at an even rate of speed."
As competition between automotive manufacturers grew and more models were produced, a need emerged for specially trained drivers who could assess the performance of vehicles under a variety of road conditions. Much of this testing took place on the highways and byways of America—allowing the public, as well as automotive competitors, to witness great successes and failures.
It soon became clear that while road testing was important, there was also a need for private testing grounds where automotive companies could test their vehicles under controlled conditions and in secret.
In 1924, General Motors established the first private proving ground, or test track, in the industry in Milford, Michigan. Other companies such as Packard, Studebaker, and Nash (later American Motors) soon followed with their own proving grounds.
Approximately two dozen proving tracks are in operation today in the United States, and test drivers continue to play an important role in the automotive industry—testing vehicles on these tracks as well as on public roads and highways.
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