The automobile is one of the most significant inventions in modern history. It has profoundly restructured the lives of individuals and entire societies. Its mobility provides individuals with great freedom of movement and allows for the flexible distribution of goods. At the same time, the automobile has a negative impact on the environment because of air pollution and traffic congestion. Despite these problems, the automobile continues to have a great influence on people’s lives and society.
The first automobiles were built in Germany in the 1880s by Karl Benz and other engineers. In the early twentieth century, Henry Ford revolutionized car production with the assembly line. This innovation allowed Ford to lower the cost of his cars and make them affordable to middle class families. In the United States, there was a greater need for automotive transportation than in Europe because of a larger geographic area and a higher per capita income. This created a seller’s market, making it easy for new auto manufacturers to enter the business.
As time passed, automobile technology improved and diversified. The automobile industry was very profitable and spawned many other technologies such as computers, lasers, and high-strength alloys of steel and nonferrous metals. Thousands of individual parts go into the making of a modern automobile. Some of these components are specialized for different functions. The automobile engine is modeled after the human heart and blood vessels with an analogous circulatory system to coolant, lubricating oil, and fuel.
Most modern automobiles are powered by a gasoline-fueled internal combustion engine. Other engines use a battery-powered electric motor or liquid petroleum gas (LPG). The internal combustion engine is the most efficient power source for cars. However, research continues into alternative power sources such as hydrogen, solar cell energy, and the stored energy of compressed air (see water engine).
A special category of automobile is the emergency vehicle. These include police cars, fire engines, and ambulances. There are also industrial automobiles like crane vehicles used for building construction, road rollers and fork-lifts in warehouses.
The automobile has become so firmly entrenched in American life that it is difficult to imagine the country without its highways and byways. It is possible to live a full life in the United States without an automobile, but it would be a much more restrictive and inconvenient life. Automobile ownership is a virtual necessity in the United States, and this fact has served as a catalyst for social change. As the automobile age reaches its final stages, it is being replaced by new forces for change. This transition has been dubbed the ‘Age of Electronics.’ This age is characterized by electronic media, the computer, and the robotics. The automobile was an important force in this transition because it enabled Americans to travel long distances more quickly and conveniently. The automobile was also an effective tool for the spread of liberal ideas such as women’s suffrage and the right to vote. Without the automobile, these movements might never have gotten off the ground.