Automobiles are motor vehicles for transportation on land, usually having four wheels and fueled most often by gasoline (or other petroleum-based fuel). They are the primary form of motor vehicle in use today. They are primarily used by individuals for personal transportation. There are also special automobiles that are designed for business or government use such as police cars, fire engines and ambulances.

In the early 1900s, automobiles became a key force in American life. They fueled the growth of new consumer goods-oriented societies, and provided many jobs in ancillary industries such as petroleum and steel. The demand for automobiles drove innovations in production technology, including the assembly line and other mass production techniques. It also stimulated the development of new roads and accelerated the growth of ancillary services such as gas stations and convenience stores.

The scientific and technical building blocks for modern automobiles date back several hundred years. By the late 1600s, Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens had developed a type of internal engine that was sparked by gunpowder. Early steam-powered road vehicles, such as phaetons and steam cars, could travel at high speeds but were limited by poor engine design and a lack of easy access to fuel. Electric battery-powered vehicles accounted for a 38 percent share of the United States automobile market in 1900 but had a short range and were difficult to start.

Inventor Karl Benz is credited with designing the first modern motor car, the Benz Patentwagen of 1885. Unlike earlier steam- and electric-powered vehicles, the Benz Patentwagen was powered by a four-stroke internal combustion engine. The engine was a significant improvement over previous engines, which had been powered by externally fired cranks and rods, and it allowed the automobile to achieve a higher speed limit and be easier to start.

After the invention of the Benz Patentwagen, a number of other companies developed their own models of automobiles. The automobile exploded in popularity during the 1920s, when American firms produced more than 485,000 of the world’s motor vehicles. These firms competed aggressively with each other to improve the design of the automobile and reduce its cost. Several innovations, including the self-starter and closed all-steel body, were introduced during this time.

The automobile changed people’s lives by giving them freedom and independence. It allowed people to travel and shop in different cities. It made the workplace accessible to people who previously did not have jobs. It also increased women’s involvement in society by giving them the opportunity to drive. During the 1910s and 1920s, there was a push for women’s rights and the automobile helped them in their efforts by allowing them to go out and vote on their own. They would often drive around with “votes for women” banners on their cars. This gave women a voice in the political process that they had not had before. In addition to this, the automobile allowed families to spend quality time together by going on road trips.