Automobiles and the 20th Century
During the 20th century, there was perhaps no invention that affected American everyday life more than the automobile. It gave people the ability to travel quickly, and it opened up many possibilities for leisure activities. The automobile was also a source of pride and status for those who could afford to own one.
Most modern automobiles are powered by internal combustion engines fueled most often by gasoline, a liquid petroleum product. The internal combustion engine burns the fuel in a cylinder, which in turn creates power that turns the wheels of the car. In some automobiles, the engine is driven by an electric motor, which can be powered by battery power or electricity produced by a generator.
The first modern automobiles were developed in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Some of them used steam to drive the wheels, but they were slow and cumbersome. Other manufacturers began producing cars that ran on electricity. These cars were more efficient, but they had to be charged before they could be used again.
Karl Benz is generally credited with inventing the modern automobile when he introduced his Benz Patent-Motorwagen in 1888. Although other individuals and companies experimented with various automotive designs, the Benz was the first to be mass-produced. During the 1920s, automakers developed many features to make their cars more comfortable, such as heaters and steel bodies. Some of the more important technical developments included electric ignition, self-starters, and independent suspensions.
Throughout the 20th century, automobile manufacturing became one of the largest industries in the world. Today, there are billions of automobiles on the roads, and they drive over three trillion miles (five trillion kilometers) each year. Automobiles have become the primary mode of transportation for most people, and new technological advances have helped them remain competitive in the marketplace.
In the past, many people depended on other people for transportation or had to wait for a bus or train. When an individual owned a car, he or she could travel on his or her own time schedule without having to worry about meeting other passengers. The independence that came with owning a car has also allowed people to move more freely between cities and rural areas.
An individual who owns a car can go to work in the city and then visit family in the countryside. In addition, an automobile can provide access to tourist attractions that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to reach by other means of transportation. Many of these attractions have become popular destinations for Americans.