When the Pedal Hits the Metal, Thank Goodness for the Speedometer

We've all had that moment on an open stretch of highway when the speed starts creeping up. Luckily, these days we've got handy speedometers to help us avoid awkward meetings with the local police officers. You can thank Croatian inventor Josip Belušić for that.

Speedometer of a car close-up, with the arrow frozen at a speed of 120 km/h. Details and interior of a black luxury car. Stock photo.
Photo: iStock.com / Ekaterina Bondaretc

The creator of the electric speedometer came from a little town in Istria, Croatia. Josip Belušić designed and patented an electric speedometer in 1888 and called it a ‘velocimeter.’ Josip Belušić was a Croatian engineer. After completing his education in Vienna, he began working as a professor of physics and mathematics at the Pedagogical School in Koper

Besides that, he was the director of the Naval Academy in Trieste. From the start, his students and co-workers alike took a liking to him. His humble nature and desire to freely share knowledge and wisdom quickly endeared him to anyone who spent time with him. However, nobody thought then that this respected professor would become an author of a worldwide invention.

Speedometer that conquered the world

The device Belušić invented measured the speed, driving time, and stopping time, as well as the time needed for the passengers to enter and exit the vehicle. It was a creation far ahead of its time, and iterations are still used today. Josip Belušic presented his unique creation to the public at the World Fair in 1889 in Paris, where it stood out as one of the most impressive designs from over 120 innovations from different countries and was applauded by critics and attendees alike. 

The Croatian speedometer was thus approved as a unique patent. Aside from that, the inhabitants of Istria granted his ambitious inhabitant a distinction as an honorary member and rewarded him with a gold medal. Although Josip did not expect to win and receive such recognition, from the beginning, he believed deep down that his invention would be appreciated and would change the future of humankind and influence the later development of technology.

Belušić’s speedometer was electrically powered, and before it became an inseparable element of every car, it was used in railroading. Its task was the proper measurement of the speed of trains. Within one year, as many as 100 such devices were installed in Paris coaches. The speedometer also worked as a tachograph – it registered the vehicle’s functioning – and also a taximeter; it counted the charge for the distance traveled by car. One can easily say that the Croatian inventor became the precursor of monitoring devices.

Josip Belušić’s legacy

The Croatian inventor’s patent documentation is still being kept in Vienna archives. People who would like to learn the history of Belušić more closely should visit his homeland. Istria is a beautiful spot in Croatia that is worth visiting all year round. 

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