Automobiles changed the world in the 20th Century. They have given people the freedom to live, work, and travel almost anywhere they want. The automobile industry has caused the suburbs to grow, and made the development of road and highway systems necessary. The manufacture, sale, and repair of automobiles are very important to the countries that produce large amounts of manufactured goods. But along with the advantages of automobiles, there have been disadvantages. Automobile accidents are a leading cause of death and injury in the world, and the automobile has brought about air and noise pollution. Despite the problems automobiles have caused, they are an important part of the culture and economy of the world.
Before the invention of railroads, streetcars, and automobiles, people traveled to work by horse or horse and carriage. A streetcar was a public passenger car operated by rails through the streets of the city. Traveling by horse was a slow means of transportation, so people had to live close to where they worked. People tended to live on farms or in the city where the businesses were located. In the late 1800’s, when railroads and streetcars were developed, people could live farther from work. The communities that grew next to or near the central cities were called suburbs. The growth of the suburbs dramatically increased when people started owning automobiles, because it became even easier for people to live farther from their work. Also, businesses and stores moved to the suburbs where the people lived.
The travel industry grew with the invention of the automobile. When people had automobiles, they could drive to different places to visit. People started going on vacations and spending money in the cities they visited, which helped the economy.
In the early days of the development of the automobile, there were three sources of automobile power – steam engines, electric motors, and gasoline engines. The first self-propelled vehicles were made during the late 1700’s in Europe using steam-powered engines. Steam engines are external-combustion engines. A steam engine works by using the heat energy of pressurized steam to push the pistons. In the late 1800’s, many Americans also experimented with steam automobiles. These automobiles were not successful, because it took a long time for the engines to heat up, they cost a lot to make, they caused a lot of noise, and sometimes they exploded if too much pressure built up in the engine.
In 1891, William Morrison built the first successful electric-powered automobile in the United States. Electric-powered automobiles were an improvement over steam-powered automobiles because they were quiet, cost less, and they did not produce smelly fumes. The disadvantages of electric cars were that they could only travel about 20 miles per hour, and the batteries needed to be recharged about every 50 miles.
In 1860, Jean Lenoir of France patented an internal- combustion engine that is similar to the type of engine used in automobiles today. Internal-combustion engines run on gasoline or diesel (oil) fuel. Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz developed the first successful gasoline-powered automobiles separately in 1885 in Germany. Eventually, gasoline powered engines were used for nearly all automobiles because they provided for faster and longer trips than engines powered by electricity or steam.
The first modern automobiles were made in Germany and France in the 1890’s. Many small companies made them by hand. Until 1900, Europe led the world in the development and production of automobiles. During the early part of the 20th Century, the United States became one of the leading countries in automobile production. The United States passed other countries in the number of automobiles produced because the United States had a greater population and higher personal income levels than the countries in Europe. The United States had more people who could afford to buy automobiles.
Another reason that the automobile industry grew in the United States was because gasoline prices dropped in the United States when oil was discovered in Texas in 1901. Gasoline is made from oil, so fuel prices went down, making the automobile less expensive to operate. Also, the United States automobile industry used mass production techniques, which further lowered the cost of owning an automobile. Mass production techniques make goods in large quantities using standardized parts and often using assembly lines. The production of automobiles in the United States increased rapidly in the early 1900’s from less that 5,000 in 1900 to more than 1.5 million in 1916.
The first automobiles built for sale to the public in the United States were made by Charles and J. Frank Duryea in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1893. The brothers founded a company in 1895 called the Duryea Motor Wagon Company, and it was the first company in the United States to make gasoline-powered automobiles.
Detroit soon became the Automobile Capital of the World. Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company in 1903, and five years later introduced the famous Model T. This automobile was popular, because it was the first affordable automobile made for the average American. Originally, the Model T sold for $825 and over 17,000 were sold in the first year.
In 1913, Ford introduced the moving assembly line, which allowed his company to build automobiles faster and at a lower cost. The frame of the car was pulled through the plant by a chain and workers on each side added parts that were brought to them by conveyor belts. Up until this time, workers assembled each automobile on one spot on the factory floor. With the assembly line, Ford was able to drop the time needed to build a Model T from 12.5 hours to 2 hours and 38 minutes. This time was eventually decreased to 1 hour and 33 minutes, which lowered the price of the Model T because the cost of labor went down. By 1924, the price of the Model T had dropped to $290. More than 15 million Model T’s were sold by the time the model was discontinued in 1927. The Model T changed the United States because large scale ownership of automobiles led to the growth of the suburbs, motels, shopping centers, and highways.
By the late 1920’s, there were three major automobile companies in the United States, all based in Michigan – General Motors Company, Ford Motor Company, and the Chrysler Corporation. The giant automobile companies wanted to produce and sell automobiles in all price ranges for people of all ages and lifestyles. Automobiles are made in various styles – two-door, four-door, small, large, sporty, and luxurious.
In 1923, when Alfred Sloan was the president of General Motors Company, he introduced the concept of changing model styling each year. This meant that, even though an automobile had the same name, the body design or features offered would be changed and improved. Eventually, this practice was used by the other automobile companies. This resulted in more frequent improvements to automobiles because every year changes were made to introduce the new models. Sales also increased because more people wanted to buy the new cars, because they looked different from their old ones.
There have been many improvements in the automobile over the past 110 years. In the early 1900’s, most automobiles looked more or less like horseless carriages. There were no roofs or windows. By 1906, automobile bodies were changed to include bumpers, a hood that covered the engine, fenders, and lamps placed on the front as headlights.
An important invention in the development of the automobile was the electric self-starter that was invented by Charles Kettering in 1911. General Motors Company first used the electric self-starter in 1912. Prior to that time, automobiles had to be started with hand cranks. A crank was put into the front of the engine and the crank had to be turned by hand until the engine started. The driver had to stand outside to use the hand crank, which was not very comfortable when the weather was bad. It was also difficult to start an automobile with a hand crank, because it took a lot of strength. The electric self-starter was better, because it was easier, faster, and the driver could be inside the automobile when starting it.
Today, automobiles use pneumatic tires, which are rubber tires filled with air. Michelin, a French rubber-making company, introduced the first pneumatic tires used on automobiles in 1895. Before this time, most vehicles had wooden wheels and steel tires. Pneumatic tires were an improvement over steel tires because they gave a smoother ride. Originally, the tires were filled with 55 to 75 pounds per square inch of air pressure. These tires were called high-pressure tires. In 1922, low-pressure tires that held from 30 to 32 pounds per square inch were introduced. The low-pressure tires provided for a smoother ride because they were not as hard and absorbed bumps better.
In 1939, air conditioning and automatic transmissions were introduced. The transmission changes the gears of an automobile depending on the speed. A larger gear is used when an automobile is starting out because a lot of force is needed. Smaller gears are used as the automobile picks up speed. With a manual transmission, the driver presses down on a clutch pedal while shifting the gears with a gearshift. Automatic transmissions have internal clutches that disengage the engine automatically as the gears change. Both automatic and manual transmissions are used today. Automatic transmissions are easier to use because the driver does not have to change gears. Manual transmissions give the driver more control and are less expensive to make.
Each year, about 300,000 people throughout the world die in traffic accidents. The three main causes of accidents are driver error, defective automobiles, and poor road conditions. Accident prevention programs are aimed at these three causes. In Michigan, for example, drivers must be at least 16 years old to obtain a driver’s license. Traffic rules are enforced by police. Safety features are included in automobiles to reduce the number of injuries and deaths from accidents. The main safety features built into automobiles are safety belts, air bags, and bumpers. Roads and highways are built with safety in mind. Lighting and guardrails are included in road design, and intersections, the number of lanes, and traffic signals are all carefully planned.
When automobile engines burn gasoline, they release gases into the air and cause air pollution. This is especially a problem in big cities such as Los Angeles where there is a lot of traffic. Government agencies have been established to set standards for the amount of pollution that an automobile may produce. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency enforces the standards that have been set up by the government. There are two main ways that automobile companies have reduced the amount of pollution caused by automobiles. Starting in the 1970’s, catalytic converters were installed in the exhaust systems of automobiles. Catalytic converters reduce pollution by minimizing the gases released into the air. Also, automobile companies have designed automobiles to use less fuel.
Automobiles continue to be improved as we
enter the 21st Century. It is expected that future automobiles will
use less fuel, cause less pollution, and be safer to drive. There
will be greater use of computers to control more of the automobile’s
systems, such as the suspension and navigation systems. Electric
engines are already being used on small vehicles, such as delivery
trucks, that make short trips, because electric engines produce much
less pollution than internal-combustion engines. The major countries
producing automobiles today are Japan, the United States, England,
France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, and Canada. Automobiles are one of
the greatest inventions of all time and will continue to change the
way we live.