Automobiles – A Brief History


Automobiles are a vital part of our daily lives and without them many luxuries of modern life would not be possible. Whether we are commuting to work, running errands or taking the kids to soccer practice, automobiles enable us to get where we need to go at our own schedule. They are also a major source of income for the automotive industry, which in turn provides jobs for thousands of Americans.

An automobile, often simply called a car, is a four-wheeled motor vehicle designed to carry two to six passengers and a limited amount of cargo. Its general design differs from that of a truck, which is designed primarily for hauling and often requires heavier and more durable parts. The term is often used as a synonym for the term passenger car, but it may be applied to vehicles with more than four wheels or a different design.

The development of the automobile is one of the defining events in twentieth-century history, and a symbol of both the promise and the perils of a consumer goods-oriented society. The automobile revolutionized travel, and spawned a host of related industries—including road construction, gasoline production, steel fabrication, oil refining, and a host of ancillary services. It also created new social problems, including traffic congestion, air pollution, and a drain on dwindling world oil supplies.

Although the technology for automobiles existed before 1900, it was Henry Ford who made the useful gadget accessible to the masses. Cycle and Automobile Trade Journal described the four-cylinder, fifteen-horsepower, $600 Ford Model N in 1906 as “the first instance of a motorcar of moderate price which is thoroughly engineered and offered in large numbers.” By introducing mass production techniques at his Highland Park, Michigan, plant in 1910, Ford greatly outpaced his competitors.

By the end of the century, cars had become a central feature of American culture. They encouraged family vacations, allowing urban dwellers to rediscover pristine natural landscapes, and they brought urban amenities, such as better medical care and schools, into rural America (although they paradoxically made the traditional family farm obsolete). They also stimulated recreation-related businesses such as service stations and motels, and helped to create the modern city with its suburbs.

As the popularity of the automobile grew, so did the number of car accidents and deaths. Soon states began regulating driver licenses, safety standards, and insurance rates. Despite the risks, most Americans came to love their automobiles. They provided a sense of independence and freedom, enabling them to shop in cities and to go on picnics with friends, for example. Teenagers gained a measure of autonomy, and parents could relax as dating couples drove away together in their own cars.

Today, with the growth of automobile manufacturing and technology, the industry is one of the world’s largest in terms of revenue. It is also a major employer, providing jobs in both the auto-making and in ancillary industries such as steel, oil, and rubber.