The History of Automobiles

Automobiles are an integral part of modern society, a force for change that has helped spawn new industries and new ways of living. They have also brought with them unforeseen harms, including air pollution and the destruction of undeveloped land to build highways. Yet, despite these drawbacks, automobile ownership remains almost universal in America, a nation that is truly auto-dependent.

The automobile evolved out of a complex set of scientific and technological building blocks that began in the late 1600s when Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens invented an internal combustion engine sparked by gunpowder. By the early 1900s, these engines were ready to be used in cars that would replace horse-drawn carriages.

During the next several decades, many automobile manufacturers entered the market to meet consumer demand. As the industry grew, it became the backbone of a new consumer goods-oriented society. Its demands made it the largest customer for steel and petroleum, the major purchaser of industrial raw materials and the main source of income for many ancillary enterprises.

Ford developed mass production techniques in his Highland Park, Michigan plant and introduced the moving assembly line. This and subsequent technological innovations reduced the cost of automobiles to the point where they could be afforded by the middle class. The advent of this mass personal transportation revolutionized the lifestyles of Americans and made it possible to get around much more quickly than before, a huge boon for businesses like hotels, restaurants, shopping malls and leisure activities.

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