Automobiles – A History of Change

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Automobiles have been a major force for change in twentieth century America. They gave people more freedom to travel and shop, to get jobs in new places, and to express their personalities and political views. They made it possible for the nation to grow into an industrial powerhouse. The automobile also brought changes in lifestyle, such as the growth of suburban communities on the edge of cities and the spread of fast food restaurants. The automobile helped bring new laws and government requirements like seatbelts, highway safety standards, and driver’s licenses.

Automobiles are powered by an internal combustion engine that uses gasoline, diesel fuel or kerosene to fire up the pistons that drive the wheels. The engine is a closed system, so it doesn’t produce waste products and it can run on a variety of fuels. The engine can also be used to power electric motors, but the majority of cars today use gas.

The first car produced was the Model T Ford in 1896, but it wasn’t until the 1920s that cars began to be mass-produced. Henry Ford developed an assembly line that allowed workers to stay in one position while car parts passed by on a conveyor belt. This enabled Ford to sell millions of cars at a very low price. Other companies followed suit and mass personal “automobility” became a reality.

By the end of the 19th century Germany was the center of automobile-making, with Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz developing petrol-driven engines. The automobile’s biggest impact came in the United States, however. The country’s vast land area and wide distribution of income encouraged greater demand for cars than Europe’s sparsely settled areas. Cheap raw materials and a tradition of mechanized manufacturing enabled American car firms to produce automobiles in higher volume at lower prices than European manufacturers.

In the postwar era, engineering suffered as nonfunctional styling and ostentatious luxury features pushed functional design aside. Automakers also pushed for high unit profits from gas-guzzling road cruisers that caused air pollution and were a drain on dwindling world oil supplies.

Today’s cars are safer, more comfortable and easier to operate than ever before. Many have advanced safety systems, such as antilock brakes and electronic stability control. Some have a navigation system that can warn drivers of dangers on the road ahead. Other innovations include automatic transmission, which shifts gears for you, and front-wheel drive to provide more traction on slippery roads.

With all of these advancements, it is no wonder that automobiles have become a central part of our lives. Most Americans own a car, and many have two or more vehicles. Being able to drive from home to work or school in minutes can save a great deal of time, which can be used for other activities. It also makes it possible to visit friends and family members more often.