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How cars have changed over the years?

04 Nov 2016History Essays

I. Introduction

Cars, also known as the automobile, are the self-propelled wheeled vehicle designed to transport passengers on highways and streets. Its power unit may utilize steam, electricity, gas, or some other energy source. Because early experiments proved the superiority of the internal combustion engine as a power unit and also proved the superiority of liquid fuel, generally gasoline, as an energy source, the term “automobile” is usually applied to vehicles employing these agents.

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Automotive vehicles carrying a large number of passengers are called buses. Commercial vehicles are called trucks. Agriculture, various industries, and military organizations use specialized types of automotive units, such as tractor or tank. All these are produced by the automotive industry, but common usage describes as an automobile a vehicle driven by a gasoline engine and designed to carry a few passengers (seldom more than seven) (Silk, 91-101). In the United States, familiar terms for the passenger automobile are auto or car. In other countries, motor car or motor is often used. In England, a truck is called a lorry.

Thesis Statement: This study gives a better understanding of the history of the automobile and scrutinizes its impact on our civilization.

II. Background

A. History of the Automobile

The automobile was not invented; that is, no individual can be named as its inventor, nor can its development be credited to the work of experimenters in any one nation. It evolved from some 200 years of tinkering by the French, Germans, British, Americans, and others. Some historians have tried to trace the evolution of the idea of a self-propelled vehicle. For clarity, it seems preferable to assume the existence of an ancient dream of such a vehicle and to describe simply the principal steps in its realization (Husselbee, 67-71). Until men knew what could be done with certain energy sources and something of how to apply them to controlled motion, it was idle to talk about workable self-propelled vehicles. The automobile is really a product of the industrial and mechanical age, and its background history begins properly with the 18th and 19th-century experiments in attempting to achieve locomotion with the power devices that were becoming known (Gillis, 134-149).

Experimenting with Steam.The earliest progress in exploring the possibilities of steam as a power source was made in Britain. Thomas Newcomen (1705) and James Watt (in the 1760’s) developed steam engines that were useful in British mines and factories. Applications of steam to vehicles appeared with the steam-propelled gun tractor of Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot, a French army officer. The first practical use of steam vehicles was made in Britain, where such designers as Sir Goldsworthy Gurney, Walter Hancock, and William Church developed steam coaches or “road locomotives,” some of which could accommodate 12 or 16 passengers (Olney, 64-69).

Later Steam Developments. Despite these accomplishments, inventors still were unwilling to abandon experiments with other types of powered vehicles. In the United States and France, especially, work on steam vehicles continued. The oldest existing self-propelled American vehicle is probably the steam carriage evolved by Richard Dudgeon in 1867. This ran on four solid wooden wheels. The two rear ones were connected to steam cylinders mounted on each side of a horizontal boiler at the front of the vehicle (Husselbee, 67-71).

Electric Vehicles.Electrically powered vehicles, although they had to await the development of stored electric power, which was available by 1892, enjoyed a measure of popularity. They appealed to feminine taste and the luxury trade range limited their usefulness. By 1900, however, the electric was the quietest and smoothest operating car made. It was the first automotive vehicle to carry an enclosed body. Electric cabs were operated in New York and other cities. Light electric delivery cars achieved some success (Husselbee, 67-71).

U.S. Gasoline Automobiles.At the turn of the century the automobile, still something if a curiosity and certainly a luxury, was available in three types—powered by an electric battery, a steam boiler, or an internal combustion engine. But the dependability and flexibility of the gasoline automobile captured the fancy of the public. In the development of the gasoline automobile, the United States took an early lead (Duffy, 34-46).

General Motors and Henry Ford.In 1908, two events of maximum importance took place in the United States. The General Motors Corporation was organized and began to absorb several of the leading independent companies, and Henry Ford began to manufacture the Model T. The latter revolutionized the automobile industry by making available to the masses of Americans a small car that s substantial proportion of them could afford to buy. With these steps, the history of the automobile ceases to be an account of how a number of makers competed to interest the wealthy in acquiring a luxury or an exciting plaything. The manufacture of high- and medium- priced cars continued, but the smaller firms were integrated into a few larges ones (Duffy, 34-46). Ford and eventually others created vast markets by making inexpensive cars on a numerous scale. The story thereafter becomes one of the developments of a massive industry.

B. Automobile Industry in the United States

The United States automotive industry is the largest of its kind in the world, and probably the largest of all industries if the collateral enterprises that it supports almost completely are included. There were several basic reasons for the country’s ability to build such an industry. The nation had quantities of raw materials such as iron, coal, hydroelectric power, petroleum, lumber, and chemicals. American industry, in general, had developed swiftly since the World War and by the turn of the century was matching and in some cases exceeding the capacity of such nations as Britain, France, and Germany.The nation was growing rapidly; immigration and a relatively high standard of living had helped virtually to double the population from 1870 to 1900, supplying an abundance of skilled and unskilled labor (Silk, 91-101). The inventive talents of the American worker were at least equal to those of his European contemporary.

Early Financial Problems. Although basic conditions were favorable, financial leaders were not convinced at first that the self-propelled vehicle was a sound investment venture. Poor highways did not encourage its use. Public interest in the new vehicle seemed sluggish. The confusion over what type of European designers, none of whom had been able during the 19th century to attract more than a luxury market. For these reasons, no generous financial assistance was available to manufacturers for some years. Many who later became leaders of the industry possessed no substantial capital. Ransom E. Olds was a machinist. Henry Ford was a watchmaker and power-plant employee. John N. Willys and the brothers John and Horace Dodge were bicycle dealers. Walter P. Chrysler was a railroad worker. They and other early manufacturers had to use their savings or their limited credit to get a start and begin operations in a small way. Many went bankrupt (Silk, 91-101).

III. Discussion

Since the invention of the automobile, it has contributed much to the development of our economy. The automotive industry gives a number of job opportunities to unemployed people and brings massive profits to the nation. Through this invention, business transactions and products from different places are easily transported to any desired places.

In the United States, new cars are sold by automobile agencies under franchise from the manufacturers. Used cars are sold by new-car dealers, independent used-car dealers, and directly by their owners.

The buyer of a new car can make a purchase directly from the dealer’s showroom stock, or he can custom-order his car from the factory through the dealer. Showroom cars come equipped with many optional features that the dealer chose to order besides the standard equipment (Olney, 64-69). By custom-ordering, the buyer can fit his car with optional features of his own choosing.

Automobile manufacturers through the dealers provide a warranty (guarantee) on the quality of an extensive number of parts on a new car. If a part listed under the warranty becomes defective within a certain specified time, the manufacturer pays for its repair or replacement. Most warranties cover a period of ownership of 12 months or cover the first 12,000 miles (19,000 km) the car is driven, whichever comes first. Tires are covered under a warranty of the tire manufacturer. Dealers sometimes offer short-term warranties on used cars. Service contracts can be purchased from most dealers for coverage extending beyond the terms of the manufacturer’s warranty. A manufacturer issues a recall when a dangerous defect occurs in a large number of automobiles of a given model (Olney, 64-69). The owner is usually requested to take his car to an authorized service facility to have the defect repaired free of charge.

A. Impact of the Automobile on Civilization

Wherever the automobile has been manufactured and distributed in large volume, striking economic and social changes have followed. Since the United States has mass-produced automotive vehicles in greater numbers than all other countries combined, the impact of the automobile will be discussed here in terms of that country. Similar effects have occurred in other countries in proportion to the level of automobile production and use attained (Duffy, 34-46).

Economic Effects. Automobile manufacturing was an infant industry in the United States in 1900; by the 1920’s it had grown into a giant and it has continued to expand although hampered by depression and war.

Deprived of the civilian market during the World War II years of 1942-1945, the industry proved its vitality by converting its productive potential to trucks, tanks, machine guns, and aircraft engines for the war effort. After the war, with the enormous civilian market again available, it resumed its expansion to larger totals in automobile production. By the mid-1960’s the industry had lifted its annual production to more than 11 million units—passenger cars, buses, and trucks (Duffy, 34-46).

The industry has become a major force in the American economy. By the 1960’s approximately one in every seven persons employed in the United States was engaged in some form of enterprise related to highway motor transport, and approximately one business in six depended on the manufacture, distribution, servicing, or use of motor vehicles.

The complexity of the automobile, requiring hundreds of varied items, stimulated other industries whose products were needed for automobiles, such as steel and other metals, glass, natural and synthetic rubber, plastics textiles, and chemicals. The phenomenal growth of the oil industry is traceable directly to the demands of the automobile and related vehicles. Hardly less impressive than the expansion of these ancillary industries has been the appearance of thousands of repair shops, garages, and service stations to maintain, store, and supply the huge automotive fleet (Duffy, 34-46).

Through various special taxes and toll charges, the manufacture, distribution, service, and use of motor vehicles are a major source of revenue to federal, state, county and city government agencies in the United States. In 1932, these agencies collected $990 million in motor vehicle taxes. In the 1950’s, special motor vehicles taxes averaged about $7.5 billion annually; in the 1960’s, they averaged about $11.5 billion annually. Truck taxes rose from an average of $1.9 billion a year in the 1950’s to $3.5 billion a year in the 1960’s.

Not all of this has represented a net economic gain. Older types of enterprises, especially those concerned with horsedrawn vehicles, have all but disappeared. The bicycle business, a sizable industry, was adversely affected for a time. The railroads, which once held a virtual monopoly on railroads, which once held a virtual monopoly on fast transportation, have suffered severely in competition with automotive vehicles in both their passenger and freight lines (Husselbee, 67-71). The vast expansion in road building, involving multilane expressways and throughways, bridges and vehicular tunnels, has strained the resources of federal and state governments and compelled a rise in gasoline taxes and the establishment of road tolls. Traffic problems have become staggering, particularly in and near large cities. The high cost of most automobiles has driven a large proportion of purchasers into installment buying, increasing individual indebtedness and adding materially to the car’s cost (Olney, 64-69).

Social Changes. As the automobile has become a virtual necessity in the United States, it has brought revolutionary social changes. No longer need the industrial worker or the white-collar employee live near his job. His automobile can carry him over fast roads to a suburb or rural area where living may be more comfortable and rewarding. Motor transport conveys perishable foods and other commodities to distant communities. The average automobile owner can enjoy longer and more frequent pleasure trips than were possible before the days of motors and smooth highways. To serve these travelers, resorts, motels, cabins, and restaurants have risen throughout the country. The automobile trailer has opened a nomadic way of life (Olney, 64-69).

Some social impacts of the automobile have been sinister. It has made the escape of the criminal easier. Sociologists have pointed out adverse effects of the motorcar on American family life. It has been described as a contributing factor in juvenile delinquency. The most grimly portentous problem, especially in the United States, is the high rate of accidents, frequently fatal. The increase of leisure time, the greater speed of new-model cars and the licensing of young and incompetent drivers had brought the total of automobile fatalities to a million by 1951. The annual death toll during the 1950’s averaged about 37, 000; during the first half of the 1960’s this average had risen to 42,000.

The automobile has become a permanent fixture in modern civilization because it satisfies so many human needs and desires. Without the passenger car and related vehicles, the modern world could hardly function effectively. The advantages that it has brought to millions are undeniable (Husselbee, 67-71). The problems and evils resulting from its improper use must be combated by wise public officials and an informed public.

IV. Conclusion

As a conclusion, automobiles are very important for our nation’s progress. This invention is already part of our economic progression. Products from remote places are delivered to urban areas through automobiles. However, in spite of the positive effects brought by automobiles, it has negative effects on our environment. Air pollution becomes a serious issue of our nation as well as in the other countries. Because automobiles emissions are a major source of air pollutants, especially carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and nitrogen dioxide, the federal government passed series of laws to restrict these emissions. The Clean Air Act is amended to require that all cars emit reduced levels of hydrocarbons and carbon dioxide. It is amended again, and further and more stringent reductions in emissions are mandated by our government. But the automobile industry argued that these regulations are unrealistic and too costly, and their full implementation is delayed several times.

At the moment, the automotive industry has found a new way to reduce such problem. They invented hybrid cars that do not use gas and with that, it minimizes the air pollution that causes by automobiles.


  1. Duffy, J.E. Modern Automotive Mechanics, pp. 34-46 (Goodheart-Willcox, 2005).
  2. Gillis, Jack. The Car Book: an Indispensable Guide to the Safest, Most Economical New Cars, pp. 134-149 (Dutton, 2005).
  3. Husselbee, W.L. Automotive Fuel, Cooling, Lubrication, and Exhaust Systems, pp. 67-71 (Reston, 2004).
  4. Olney, R. R. Listen to Your Car! An Easy Guide to Identifying Car Troubles, pp. 64-69 (Walker, 2001).
  5. Silk, Gerald. The Automobile and Culture, pp. 91-101 (Abrams, 2004).
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