On 9 October 1623, Ferdinand Verbiest (1623–1688) was born in Pittem, Belgium. He was a Jesuit priest, explorer, translator and inventor.
In 1658, Verbiest left Europe to go on a mission to China, where the Roman Catholic Church was attempting to compensate for the loss of believers to the emerging Protestantism in Europe. In the Chinese Empire he became known under the name Nan Huairen (南懷仁) and gained himself merits as mathematician and astronomer. Verbiest also worked as a diplomat, cartographer and translator as he spoke Latin, German, Dutch, Spanish, and Italian. Throughout his life he wrote more than thirty books and became close friends with the Kangxi Emperor, who frequently requested his teaching, in geometry, philosophy and music.
Amongst Verbiest’s many interests were also experiments with steam. Around 1672 he designed – for the Chinese Emperor’s entertainment – a steam-propelled trolley which most probably was the first working steam-powered vehicle, realizing ‘auto-mobility’. It is described in Verbiest’s work Astronomia Europea. It was only 65 cm long and not designed to carry human passengers, nor a driver. Steam was generated in a ball-shaped boiler, emerging through a pipe at the top, from where it was directed at a simple, open steam turbine (like a water wheel) that drove the rear wheels. It is not known if Verbiest’s model was ever built at the time. Another of his inventions is a steam engine to propel ships. 
Verbiest died in Beijing on 28 January 1688. His remains were buried near those of two other famous Jesuits – Matteo Ricci and Johann Adam Schall von Bell – on 11 March 1688. Verbiest was the only Westerner in Chinese history to ever receive the honour of a posthumous name by the Emperor.