Automobiles are the primary means of transportation for billions of people worldwide. They have also become the main source of income for many manufacturers and their workers and a major consumer product for most households. Cars have brought great changes to our society and lifestyle, as well as their own set of problems. The automobile has made travel easier, opened up new areas for leisure activities, and led to the growth of services like motels, hotels, restaurants and amusement parks. It has also brought pollution, traffic jams and accidents, a need for driver’s licenses, safety features, and laws to govern the use of the road.
The scientific and technical building blocks of the modern automobile date back to the late 1600s, when Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens invented a type of internal combustion engine sparked by gunpowder. However, it was Karl Benz that made the modern automobile practical for mass consumption. Until 1910, the cars that were manufactured were mostly for the wealthy because they required steam or electric power and had to be built by hand. Benz was followed by Henry Ford, who developed the assembly line to speed production. His Model T ran on gasoline and sold for less than the average annual wage.
By the 1920s, three American companies—Ford, General Motors and Chrysler—dominated global auto production. This was largely due to the fact that America, with its vast land area and a much more equitable distribution of wealth than Europe, had far greater demand for automobiles. The ability to produce them in large quantities at a lower cost allowed for a much larger market share than European makers could muster.
Besides being a useful mode of transportation, the automobile has become a symbol of freedom, status, and independence for many individuals. It has helped families to explore places that they would not have been able to reach on foot, and to rediscover pristine landscapes in rural areas. It has also enabled teenagers to have a portable place for socializing, and it has allowed dating couples to enjoy the privacy of their cars together.
In addition, cars have helped to develop and expand the industries that provide the raw materials needed for automotive manufacturing. This included the logging industry, which was used for logs to make the chassis, and the petroleum and rubber industries, which provided the fuel and other components of the automobile. Other related industries include the manufacture of tires, paint, and plastics. Service businesses like gas stations, garages, and repair shops have also flourished.
Although there are still some people who do not have a car, the majority of Americans own one and use it on a daily basis. This is partly because the automobile has made work more accessible and because it provides a way to get around when public transportation is not available. In the event of an emergency, having a car to help get to an urgent destination can be vital. It can also provide a sense of security, as a vehicle is a safe place to hide in the event of a burglary or natural disaster.