The automobile is one of the most important inventions in human history. It revolutionized society in many ways and brought about changes for industry, technology and everyday life. The automobile gave people freedom and mobility that they did not have before and it also allowed them to enjoy leisure activities like travel, recreation, shopping, dining out and sports. This type of transportation has also created jobs and services that have grown to support it, such as gas stations, hotels and motels, restaurants and fast food places, amusement parks and other recreational areas and more.
The first automobile was built by French inventor Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot in 1769 and it was powered by steam. Steam-powered cars were very heavy and sat very low to the ground. They also had to be fueled with water that needed to be heated in order to run. Manufacturers started to produce automobiles with internal combustion engines during the late 1800s and they became more affordable. The invention of the assembly line by American carmaker Henry Ford in 1908 drastically reduced the cost of production and made automobiles more affordable for the middle class.
During the 1920s the automobile was a powerful force for change in America. It provided jobs and sparked growth in industries that supported it, such as petroleum, tires and rubber. It also spawned new services like gas stations and convenience stores. It was during this time that North Carolina got its own Ford plant and it was the largest auto factory in the South at the time.
Automobile ownership increased throughout the 20th century and it is now almost universal in the United States. During this time there was a large increase in safety features, engine efficiency and design, and the number of passenger seats. By the end of the century the automobile had become a symbol of freedom and individualism for the Americans.
With the advent of globalization, more countries have access to automobiles than ever before. This has caused an increase in traffic, pollution and a strain on the world’s oil supply. It also led to the introduction of laws that regulate automotive safety and emissions and fuel economy, as well as long lines at gas stations and higher prices for gasoline.
The era of the gaudy, flashy road cruiser came to an end with the imposition of government standards for automotive safety (1966), environmental emissions, and energy consumption (1965, 1970, and 1975); escalating gasoline prices that resulted from the oil shocks of 1973 and 1979; the penetration of the U.S. market by the German Volkswagen Beetle (a modern Model T) and Japanese fuel-efficient, functionally designed, well-built small cars; and, in general, with increasing concern over the negative impact of the automobile on society’s health. The future of the automobile seems to lie in hybrid, electrical and autonomous vehicles. They are expected to replace the traditional gasoline-powered automobiles in the near future. This will have a significant effect on our economy, as well as the environment and our way of life.