Automobiles are powered by internal combustion engines, most commonly fueled with gasoline, a liquid petroleum product. These cars, also called motorcars or automobiles, have changed society, giving people access to jobs and places to live far from their homes. But they have also brought harm, from pollution to congestion to a drain on dwindling world oil supplies. And they have also required government regulation of safety features and highway rules.
The scientific and technical building blocks of the modern automobile go back hundreds of years. In the late 1600s Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens invented a steam engine sparked by gunpowder to power a carriage that did not require horse power. But it was the work of Karl Benz, a German engineer, in 1885 that led to the first successful gas-powered automobile. He designed a three-wheeled vehicle that resembled a carriage and he was the first to use a four-stroke internal combustion engine.
Benz was followed by Gottlieb Daimler and Nicolaus Otto, who developed versions of their internal combustion engines in bicycles. Daimler and his design partner Wilhelm Maybach took the idea one step further, adapting a stagecoach to hold Daimler’s new engine and thus creating the first four-wheeled automobile. In 1901, the German car manufacturer Daimler-Benz introduced the Model T, a more refined version of Benz’s model. The automobile was now affordable to middle-class families.
American businessman and engineer Henry Ford built on Benz’s ideas. He adapted the manufacturing methods used in textile mills and other industries to industrial automotive production. This allowed him to reduce the price of his Model T runabout to a level affordable for most middle-class families. Ford also pioneered ways to improve car performance and quality.
By the 1920s, the automobile had become one of America’s largest consumer goods and it was the key element in a growing consumer economy. It also ranked first in value of goods produced and provided one out of every six industrial jobs. Its demands helped shape the development of steel, petroleum, and other ancillary industries.
The automobile has shaped society in many ways, including changing leisure activities and providing access to jobs and places to live far from home. It has also given rise to the development of restaurants, hotels, and motels. And it has created a need for roads, which have become major thoroughfares in towns and cities and for highways linking the country’s vast regional and international trade areas.
The automobile has also changed the way people think about freedom, and it has impacted lifestyles in the United States and around the world. Many families today would find it difficult to function without a car. Owning a car provides convenience, time efficiency and a sense of security for families on trips. In addition, driving allows family members to spend more quality time together. But the automobile can be expensive to operate and maintain, and it requires a high degree of skill to drive. Despite this, the automobile continues to play an important role in modern life and it is likely to continue to do so in the future.