Automobiles are four-wheeled vehicles that use an internal combustion engine to move. They have shaped the modern world, making it possible to travel from one city or country to another in a matter of hours and opening up new opportunities for people who wish to live and work in different places. But automobiles can also be dangerous and even cause environmental damage.
The scientific and technological building blocks for the modern automobile began to take shape in the late 1600s, when Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens invented a type of internal combustion engine sparked by gunpowder. In the 1800s, Edouard Delamare-Deboutteville and Leon Malandin of France put an internal combustion tank fueled by gasoline on a tricycle. During its first test, the vehicle exploded. Two years later, Siegfried Marcus of Austria developed a two-stroke internal combustion engine on a handcart. This vehicle had seats and brakes but no steering, and it was not very effective.
By the 1880s, Karl Benz of Germany had patented an automobile powered by a four-stroke internal combustion engine with spark plugs. His Benz Patent-Motorwagen, which had no seats, was less successful than his previous design.
It was not until the early 1900s that Henry Ford’s Model T brought mass personal “automobility” to the United States. The car was cheap, reliable enough to be used for transportation and a good place to store things, and it had enough room for passengers. It was also a relatively clean vehicle, unlike the horse carriages that populated urban areas and polluted the environment. The Model T also got people closer to the remote natural world than any other mode of transportation had previously done.
Automobiles continue to be a major force in society, providing convenience and freedom. They can help us get to and from work, school or shopping more quickly than walking, but they can also contribute to traffic congestion and pollution. Moreover, they can be unsafe if they crash or if the driver becomes distracted while operating them.
Many cities and towns have public transportation systems like buses, trains or trams that can get people where they want to go more quickly than automobiles, and are safer to operate. These systems can be cheaper than owning a car, and they may provide more environmental benefits as well.
The automobile has also changed industry and technology, as manufacturers developed factories to produce parts and fuel. Jobs in related industries grew, and services such as gas stations and convenience stores sprang up. The automobile has made it possible for people to live in different places and have large social circles, but it has also prompted some to become too reliant on the car, which can make them lonely or isolated. Moreover, the emergence of new technologies such as the Internet and electronic media has shifted the balance of power away from the automobile as a force for change and toward other forces. Nonetheless, the automobile is still a vital part of American life, and it will probably be an important part of our future as well.