Automobiles – The Most Universal of Modern Technologies
Automobiles are powered by internal combustion engines, usually burning gasoline, a liquid petroleum product. They are the most universal of modern technologies, manufactured by one of the world’s largest industries and used worldwide by more than 73 million people in 2017. The automobile was the dominant mode of transportation in the United States for many years, with 85 percent of American households owning at least one car. The automobile has also contributed to a new era of consumerism in America, creating jobs and stimulating business.
The scientific and technical building blocks of the modern automobile go back several hundred years, starting in the late 1600s when Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens invented a type of internal combustion engine sparked by gunpowder. The automobile was introduced in the early 1900s, and from its beginning it has been a symbol of freedom and progress.
It enabled people to get to jobs and shop for necessities in a growing economy, and it contributed to leisure activities like vacations and recreation. The automobile helped develop new services, including motels, hotels, and restaurants. And it brought social problems, including air pollution and a drain on dwindling oil reserves.
As technology improved, the automobile became more dependable and affordable to own. The first automobiles were hand-built, but Henry Ford revolutionized the industry in 1908. He figured out that by using a moving assembly line to produce cars with basic features, he could make them cheaper so more people could afford them. This led to the mass production of automobiles and a massive change in society.
Since the 1920s, the automobile has been the main form of transportation in the United States and most other countries. It is the biggest market for steel and petroleum, and it stimulates ancillary industries. Automobiles have been responsible for a lot of technological advances, including electric ignition and the automatic transmission, both developed by Charles Kettering in 1910. Other important improvements include independent suspension and four-wheel brakes, which were pioneered by Ransom Eli Olds and William D. Packard in the 1930s. Pistonless rotary engines, such as those used in Mazda’s Wankel-engine vehicles, are an attempt to compete with the traditional piston and crankshaft design.
Despite their promise, automobiles have also been a source of frustration. They are expensive to repair, their exhaust releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and they require regular maintenance. Some cities have banned the use of them, or require drivers to use alternative modes of transport. Nonetheless, most families still rely on them to get around. This makes them the most important means of personal transportation in the world. Nevertheless, new forces are emerging that may eventually replace the automobile as a force for progress and freedom. The Age of the Automobile is fading into a new Age of Electronics.