Automobiles are vehicles that use an internal combustion engine fueled most often by gasoline, a liquid petroleum product. Various definitions of automobiles have been developed, but the majority agree that an automobile is a wheeled motor vehicle designed to run on roads and seat one to eight people. The branches of engineering that deal with the manufacture and technology of automobiles are known as automobile engineering. The automobile has had a profound influence on human civilization and the modern world in general. Today there are more than half a billion automobiles in operation around the globe.
Historically, the modern automobile evolved from an early innovation in land transport called the railroad. Railroads were able to carry more cargo than wagons pulled by horses, and they could operate faster and at greater distances. In the late 1800s, Gottlieb Wilhelm Daimler, Karl Benz and Emile Levassor began developing automobiles using internal combustion engines powered by gas.
In the beginning of the 20th century, automobiles became more affordable so that they were accessible to middle-class Americans. This allowed more people to enjoy the luxuries of the automobile, which included freedom to travel and explore. It also increased the number of people who could go on shopping trips or visit friends and family.
The scientific and technical building blocks for the automobile date back to the late 1600s when Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens invented a type of internal combustion engine fueled by gunpowder. By the late 1860s Siegfried Marcus, a German working in Austria, had developed a prototype vehicle using a two-stroke internal combustion engine fueled by gasoline. This crude vehicle lacked seats, steering and brakes, but it represented an important milestone.
After a number of improvements in the automobile, Henry Ford introduced the Model T in 1908. The Model T was the first affordable mass-produced car and changed the way America lived. People who previously traveled by horse and wagon now travelled in comfort by automobile. Moreover, the automobile enabled people to travel between urban and rural areas.
By the 1920s the automobile was a symbol of American economic power and a powerful force for change in the United States. It was a top consumer of steel and petroleum, and its demand helped drive the development of new technologies in those ancillary industries. It was also a significant employer, providing one in six jobs at that time.
Today, automobiles are an integral part of our daily lives. They help us get to work and school on time, do our shopping, visit friends and family, and take vacations. Having a car allows you to travel at your own speed, freeing up your valuable time for other things. It’s hard to imagine life without an automobile. However, the demand for this luxury has grown to such an extent that it threatens global sustainability and is causing problems of unprecedented scale. It’s time to reexamine the role of the automobile in our society.