The first cars in Vietnam

Travel, exchange, and trade were essential needs and people used land and water means of transportation, using human and animal power, or wind power for sailing ships… at least until the fifth century. 19. An example is in Europe, along the canals there are still parallel lanes for horses to pull cargo barges.

The most important invention of the industrial revolution in Europe was the steam engine. Cars appear in this context and are descendants of chariots.

But if you rely on the definition of a self-driving car – the car (automobile) – then the first car appeared in Asia.

In 1668, Ferdinand Verbiest, a Belgian Jesuit missionary in Beijing (China), built a car that was self-propelled by a kettle of boiling water. Although it was just a toy, this invention inspired cars in the mid-18th century. The word “car” is derived from that.

The first cars in Vietnam - Photo 1.

The first car was invented by the Belgian Jesuit missionary Ferdinand Verbiest in 1672. He was a close friend of Emperor Kangxi.

Next are the motorized cars but have difficulty because the law requires a flag-bearer to run first to avoid accidents for pedestrians. It was not until the beginning of the 20th century that France became the place to produce nearly half of the total number of cars in the world with Peugeot, Renault, and Penhard brands.

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In her memoirs, a French journalist vividly recreated the life of Saigon in the early years of the 20th century. Here is the image of a former singer of the Saigon Opera House, Mrs. Pauline Maillard, At that time, he was a famous businessman who was walking daily on Catinat Street (Dong Khoi) on a beautiful two-horse pulled by white horses. She nodded slightly to the familiar customers. Then one day a car appeared.

Witness of the event, writer Jean Ajalbert, recounted: “In 1900 I climbed into the first car that was imported into Saigon. Mr. Ippolito drove over to give the Governor General and attended a dinner party. When we reached the gate, two soldiers practice leaving the guard post, throwing their guns away and running in front of the monster car that drove on its own without a horse.”

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The history of Vietnamese cars is associated with one name: Vincent Ippolito – who imported the first cars to Indochina and made an important contribution to the development of this new means of transport for more than a quarter of a century. .

In contrast to Ajalbert, one thing can be sure: Ippolito is not the first to own a car in Vietnam. Before that, there were two Serpollets in Saigon – actually powered by steam – of two Frenchmen: engineer Georges Hermenier, who built the Saigon Water Plant, and Louis Jacque, director of an import-export company. Exporter and Chairman of the Saigon Chamber of Commerce.

Arriving at the Pearl of the Far East in 1900, Vincent Ippolito – a French-Italian engineer – immediately opened a Peugeot car and bicycle import company under the name La Société d’automobiles Ippolito et Cie (Company. Ippolito car) located at Charner (Nguyen Hue) and Espagne (Le Thanh Ton) streets. The whole company has three foreign mechanics.

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Engineer Vincent Ippolito is driving, next to him is Ernest Outrey, member of the French National Assembly, representative of Cochinchina.

Ernest Outrey, the French official who headed Thu Dau Mot and then a member of the French National Assembly, representing Cochinchina, was the company’s first guest. We can find postcards with pictures of him and Governor-General of Indochina Paul Beau or Ernest Outrey, an official in Cochinchina. He is well-connected and is described as likable.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the daily life of the French in Saigon really started at 6pm. That’s when they gathered mainly at the water bars at the four corners of Catinat Street (Dong Khoi) next to the theater to drink aperitifs. The aperitif show sometimes lasts until 3 am.

Vincent Ippolito is known as a swashbuckler, often sitting at the Continental to tell stories of adding salt and fish sauce. Alcohol came in and out and quarrels occurred as usual. Sometimes, out of reason, they give their opponents a thunderous slap. And to remove face, the victim has the right to challenge a gun battle to wash away shame.

Such was the case with engineer Ippolito, the victim of public humiliation. The duel was held on the outskirts of Saigon with two witnesses for each side. During the first decades of the century, no one was shot dead because no one wanted to go to prison for murder, so the two sides even though they didn’t make an appointment to shoot at the sky. Ippolito fell again in the rare case of a minor shoulder injury.

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In the early 20th century, Saigon had a strong attraction to European elites, such as Danish princes, marquis, dukes… Their common passion was hunting. Only ten kilometers from the city center is the jungle, the roads have not been opened much. They travel mainly by river or if by road, they are supported by local authorities.

Of all those groups, the most prominent figure was the Duke de Montpensier, who threw money out the window. He used a car to travel from Saigon to Nam Vang, which is considered an exciting adventure because the roads have not been opened.

In the following decades, the road developed quite rapidly to meet the demand for commuting and the car became a significant competition for the train. The evidence is that rail fares have had to drop significantly to entice customers.

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Buses in Da Nang. Source: La Nature

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La Nature newspaper, special issue on cars in Indochina

Perhaps the earliest known car in Hanoi is that of Dr. Yersin.

As early as 1902, the Governor General of Indochina appointed him to be in charge of organizing the medical school located in Hanoi and he held the position of dean for two years before returning to Nha Trang. When he took up his new assignment, he brought with him a car, perhaps the first known in the Indochinese capital.

From the beginning, his car company had a branch in Nam Vang and in the early 1920s, the company opened more in Vinh Long and was soon sold to a Chinese who thought it was a good deal.

After living in Indochina for 26 years, he decided to return to Paris to hold a position in a company in France. With this engineer, Saigon pioneered the use of road traffic inventions at the same time as Europe… Vincent Ippolito, a name that perhaps few people know.

(The article is based on press materials from the early 20th century,
through Illustration, La Nature, Le Courrier saigonnais…)

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DU THANH KHIEM (written from Brussels)


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