Automobiles are wheeled motor vehicles designed to carry one or more passengers and propelled by an internal combustion engine fueled most commonly by gasoline, a liquid petroleum product. An automobile consists of numerous systems, all of which must work together to create a safe and comfortable vehicle for the driver and his or her passengers. These systems include the engine, transmission, electrical system, cooling and lubrication system and chassis.
The design of an automobile is a complex task and compromises are made in order to satisfy the requirements for safety, economy, performance, and appearance. This is an area of engineering that continually evolves with new breakthroughs in technology and new demands on the industry to meet environmental legislation, safety regulations and consumer desires.
Despite their limitations, automobiles have been the force for change in twentieth century American life. They transformed the nation from a nation of small, dispersed communities into one of vast and diverse urban centers. The automobile has provided a freedom of movement to individuals that was unthinkable in previous times. This freedom of movement has changed whole societies and reshaped economics by allowing for the rapid distribution of goods.
While the automobile’s development was accelerated by the economic climate of the 1920’s, the need for transportation was already great. America’s extensive land area encouraged growth of a large market for automobiles, while its cheap raw materials and comparatively lower labor costs made it a prime manufacturing location. The demand for vehicles stimulated the growth of a number of ancillary industries, including steel, petroleum and other industrial supplies.
Gottlieb Wilhelm Daimler was the first to develop a gas-powered internal combustion engine. After earning a mechanical engineering degree from Stuttgart Polytechnic in 1885, Daimler joined with Karl Maybach to develop an engine that could be used in cars. The two men spent ten years developing their engines before they were ready for production. Daimler’s engine proved to be more practical than Etienne Lenoir’s, which had been patented in France in 1886.
Henry Ford’s assembly line enabled him to produce his Model T runabout at a price less than the average annual wage in 1912, making automobiles affordable for the mass market. As more and more cars were produced, traffic congestion and accidents increased in frequency and public outcry led to licensure and safety regulation at the state level.
The development of the automobile influenced all other forms of human transportation, and a whole industry grew up around its maintenance, repair, and improvement. It also revolutionized the way that people shop and socialize. The automobile has made a huge impact on our lives, and for many of us it would be difficult to imagine a time without it. But the automobile has reached its zenith and is now being replaced by other technologies, such as electronic media, lasers and computers. This page has links to articles on the history of the automobile.