Some of the earliest known amphibious vehicles were amphibious carriages, the invention of which is credited to the Neapolitan polymath Prince Raimondo di Sangro of Sansevero (July 1770) or Sir Samuel Bentham (1781).

The first known self-propelled amphibious vehicle, a steam-powered wheeled dredging barge, named the Orukter Amphibolos, was conceived and built by United States inventor Oliver Evans in 1805, although it is disputed to have successfully travelled over land or water under its own steam.

Inventor Gail Borden, better known for condensed milk, designed and tested a sail powered wagon in 1849. On testing it reportedly tipped over 50 feet (15 m) from shore, from an apparent lack of ballast to counteract the force of the wind in the sail.

In the 1870s, logging companies in eastern Canada and the northern United States developed a steam-powered amphibious tug called an “Alligator” which could cross between lakes and rivers. The most successful Alligator tugs were produced by the firm of West and Peachey in Simcoe, Ontario.

Until the late 1920s the efforts to unify a boat and an automobile mostly came down to simply putting wheels and axles on a boat hull, or getting a rolling chassis to float by blending a boat-like hull with the car’s frame. One of the first reasonably well documented cases was the 1905 amphibious petrol-powered carriage of T. Richmond (Jessup, Iowa, USA). Just like the world’s first petrol-powered automobile (1885, Carl Benz) it was a three-wheeler. The single front wheel provided direction, both on land and in the water. A three-cylinder petrol combustion-engine powered the oversized rear wheels. In order to get the wheels to provide propulsion in the water, fins or buckets would be attached to the rear wheel spokes. Remarkably the boat-like hull was one of the first integral bodies ever used on a car.

Since the 1920s many diverse amphibious vehicles designs have been created for a broad range of applications, including recreation, expeditions, search & rescue, and military, leading to a myriad of concepts and variants. In some of them the amphibious capabilities are central to their purpose, whereas in others they are only an expansion to what has remained primarily a watercraft or a land vehicle. The design that came together with all the features needed for a practical all terrain amphibious vehicle was by Peter Prell of New Jersey. His design, unlike others, could operate not only on rivers and lakes but the sea and did not require firm ground to enter or exit the water. It combined a boat-like hull with tank-like tracks. In 1931 he tested a scaled down version of his invention.