1896, "a motorist," from French chauffeur, literally "stoker," operator of a steam engine, French nickname for early motorists, from chauffer "to heat," from Old French chaufer "to heat, warm up; to become hot" (see chafe). The first motor-cars were steam-driven. Sense of "professional or paid driver of a private motor car" is from 1902.
The '95 Duryea wagon, which won the Chicago contest last Fall, was exhibited at the Detroit Horse Show last week. Charles B. King, treasurer of the American Motor League, acted as "chauffeur," as the French say. ["The Horseless Age," April 1896]