Automobiles are cars, trucks, buses and other road vehicles that use internal combustion engines to generate power for motion. They are generally powered by gasoline, but some are also powered by electricity, natural gas, propane or other fuels. Unlike carriages, wagons and horse-drawn carts, automobiles can be driven by the person who owns them, and they can travel long distances without being limited by geographic location.
The automobile revolutionized many aspects of society in the early 1900s. It gave people the freedom to travel where they wanted, whenever they wanted, and to carry large amounts of merchandise from place to place. This increased opportunities for businesses, as more people could shop or go to work in distant cities and towns. It also opened up new ways for families to spend vacations, as people were able to rediscover pristine landscapes and rural areas they had never visited before. The automobile also allowed young adults to have more freedom with their social lives, as they were no longer dependent on their parents and could leave home at will.
Auto makers began to produce more and more of these vehicles, which meant that more and more Americans had the means to own them. Karl Benz is credited with inventing the first automobile around 1885, but Henry Ford really brought these machines to the masses when he created the assembly line for production of his Model T. This method allowed him to make the car much cheaper and more affordable, which meant that anyone could afford one if they were willing to put in the work to keep it running properly.
Once the automotive industry got booming, the demand for various parts and materials rose as well. Industries and jobs sprung up to manufacture things like tires, metals for the body, fuel pumps, rubber and plastic. Road construction and maintenance sprang up as well, which helped to create even more jobs.
As the years passed, the automobile became a staple of American culture. People used their cars for work and play, and the nation became very familiar with traffic jams, accidents and deadly crashes. In order to stay competitive, auto manufacturers continued to innovate, introducing new safety features and making the cars faster and more efficient.
After World War II, auto manufacturers started to focus more on exports, and the automobile grew in popularity overseas as well. By the 1980s, manufacturers worldwide were producing more and more cars to meet the increasing demand. However, the increase in sales coincided with market saturation and a slowdown in technological advancements. Ultimately, most post-World War II automobiles were made much the same as the Model T, and by the 1950s most of the innovations that had been introduced after 1920 had been eliminated from the industry.