The History of Automobiles

Automobiles are vehicles that primarily use an internal combustion engine to power the wheel assembly and, in most cases, carry people rather than cargo. They are generally four-wheeled passenger vehicles, have seating for one to six people and are constructed primarily for use on roads. The automobile was invented in the late 1800s by Karl Benz and soon after introduced by other inventors and engineers. The automobile revolutionized modern society as it radically altered the way we live, work and play. Today the American public drives more than 4.8 trillion kilometers (three trillion miles) per year, and owning a car is a basic part of modern life in much of the developed world.

The development of the automobile depended on the invention of internal combustion engines, which are capable of propelling a vehicle using a combination of fuel and air. The development of the automotive industry also depended on improved lubrication technology and better, more reliable gasoline. These innovations allowed automobiles to be built on a large scale and to compete effectively with other forms of transportation.

By the 1920s the automobile was the backbone of a new consumer goods-oriented economy. It was the biggest customer of the petroleum industry, the primary employer of steel manufacturers and the primary consumer of other industrial products. It spawned numerous spin-off industries as well. The demand for vulcanized rubber, for example, caused the development of new tire production. Road construction became a significant industry as state and local governments began investing in highways.

With the advent of the automobile, families were able to explore and rediscover pristine landscapes outside of their immediate neighborhoods. Teenagers gained independence with their first driver’s license and couples could relax in the privacy of their cars. The automobile also facilitated more relaxed sexual attitudes.

Although the automobile ushered in a new type of lifestyle, it also brought with it problems and challenges. Traffic congestion and increased accidents and fatalities raised safety concerns. The automobile also encouraged urban sprawl, which strained city infrastructure and resources, as people moved to the suburbs seeking affordable housing and better job opportunities.

The automotive industry grew rapidly during the first half of the 20th century. Manufacturers funneled their resources into military production during World War II, but once the war ended demand for automobiles once again soared. The development of mass production techniques by American carmaker Henry Ford revolutionized industrial manufacturing, allowing companies such as Ford, General Motors and Chrysler to dominate the market. The industry has grown even more in the 21st century, with new hybrid and electrical cars entering the market, as well as the proliferation of smaller, more functionally designed, and better-built Japanese cars. The future of the automobile will likely be dominated by these types of vehicles. However, a global shift away from fossil fuels may result in a return to the horse and carriage or other ancient forms of transport. This shift will most likely be gradual, as automobiles will continue to be necessary for many activities and most of us will still need access to them in some form.