Automobile, Origin of
AUTOMOBILE, ORIGIN OF
The automobile was a four-wheeled vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine and used primarily for the transportation of people. It was the result of a series of inventions which began in 1769 when French military engineer Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot (1725–1804) built a steam-powered road vehicle. In the early 1800s other inventors also experimented with this idea and the steam-powered vehicle was put into production in Europe and the United States. A breakthrough in developing gas-powered automobiles came in 1860, when an internal combustion engine was patented in France. But a prototype of the twentieth century automobile wasn't "born" until 1885 when Germans Gottlieb Daimler (1834–1900) and Carl Benz (1844–1929) (working independently of each other) developed the forerunners of the gas engines used today. In 1891–1892 a French company Panhard et Levassor designed a front-engine, rear-wheel drive automobile. This concept remained relatively unchanged for nearly one hundred years. In 1896 the Duryea Motor Wagon Company turned out the United States' first production motor vehicle. The gas-powered cars were available for purchase that same year. Until 1900 Europeans led the world in the development and production of automobiles. But the first decades of the 1900s saw the U.S. auto industry take the lead, establishing Detroit, Michigan, as Motor City, U.S.A.
In 1908 Ford Motor Company (established 1903) produced the first dependable, easily maintained, and widely affordable automobile—the Model T. American consumers bought 17,000 Model Ts the year they were introduced at the price of $850. The popularity of the "Tin Lizzie" (it was also nicknamed the "Flivver") was met by stepped-up production: In 1917 Ford produced 700,000 Model Ts. The innovation of the moving assembly line (1914) steadily improved production time. This resulted in lowering of manufacturing costs and the decrease of the price of the car to the consumer (in 1924 the Model T sold for just $295). Model T now became accessible to working class families. In the 1920s automobile registration in the U.S. climbed from eight million to 23 million.
The impact of the automobile on American life was profound and lasting. Public safety officials stepped up to the ever-increasing demands of traffic control. Roads had to be improved and extended (in 1921 Congress passed the Federal Highway Act which provided federal aid for state roads; in 1923 a national highway system was conceived of). The oil industry worked to keep pace with soaring demand for petroleum and motor oils. Suburbs grew rapidly and businesses rushed to take advantage of the car craze. America's romance with the automobile launched related industries including roadside eateries, drive-in movies, motels, and billboard advertising along highways. The car transformed America into a mobile society. By the end of the twentieth century most Americans viewed the automobile as a necessity of life.