Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot (26 February 1725 – 2 October 1804) was a French inventor. He is known to have built the first working self-propelled mechanical vehicle—arguably the world's first automobile. This claim is disputed by some sources, however, which suggest that Ferdinand Verbiest, as a member of a Jesuit mission in China, may have been the first to build, around 1672, a steam-powered vehicle that was too small to carry a driver or passengers.
Cugnot was born in Void-Vacon, Lorraine, (now departement of Meuse), France. He trained as a military engineer. He experimented with working models of steam-engine-powered vehicles for the French Army, intended for transporting cannons, starting in 1765.
Cugnot was one of the first to employ successfully a device for converting the reciprocating motion of a steam piston into rotary motion by means of a ratchet arrangement. A small version of his three-wheeled fardier à vapeur ("steam dray") ran in 1769. (A fardier was a massively built two-wheeled horse-drawn cart for transporting very heavy equipment such as cannon barrels).