Automobiles have become a major part of modern life. They are used to carry passengers and cargo, so they play a vital role in the economy. Automobiles are also an important means of transportation for people who are unable to travel on foot or by other modes of transport. Having a car gives you the freedom to travel where and when you want, and it allows you to avoid congested highways and main roads. You can also get to your destination quickly without having to worry about being late.
The scientific and technical building blocks of the automobile date back several hundred years, but the first true cars did not take shape until the late 1800s. Karl Benz, a German engineer, is usually given credit for inventing the automobile; his Model T was the first car to be mass-produced. By the end of the 19th century, inventors were trying to bring automobile technology within reach of middle-class Americans. They succeeded; automobiles of the day were far less expensive than they are today.
The earliest cars were powered by steam, electric power, or gasoline. Steam-powered cars could go fast and were inexpensive to operate, but they often broke down, were difficult to start, and had a limited range. Battery-powered electric cars were more reliable than steam-powered vehicles, but they were expensive and had to be charged regularly at recharging stations. Gasoline-powered cars were more affordable than electric ones, but they were still expensive for most consumers.
Eventually, engineers developed four-stroke engines that consumed gasoline or kerosene and combusted the fuel inside a cylinder to produce thrust that powered the vehicle. These engines made the automobile affordable for most working families.
About seventy-five miles from Benz’s factory, Gottlieb Daimler was working hard on his own internal combustion engine. When he finished his design, it was an improvement over Benz’s. Daimler’s engine was mounted on a four-wheeled automobile that he named the Patent-Motorwagen. Although the automobile was not as beautiful or efficient as Benz’s, it ran well on its initial road test.
Then came Henry Ford, a businessman who saw the potential of manufacturing automobiles on an assembly line. He revolutionized the way they were made and, as a result, automobiles became more affordable to middle-class Americans. The 1908 introduction of his Model T car brought mass personal automobility to America, and the Automobile Age began.