mostly within his or her own village or town. By the end of the century, the typical
than 1.5 trillion miles are traveled each year. How the auto industry grew from a few
thousand Tin Lizzies to the modern, aerodynamic and multipurpose vehicles of today is a
For hundreds of years, humans have attempted to develop means for faster, more
clockwork, and wind. In 1769, Frenchman Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot built the first
automobile, which was actually a steam-powered tricycle. For much of the 19th century,
steam power prevailed, despite the danger of boiler explosions and unpleasant odors
left by exhaust fumes.
Electric cars made their appearance in the late 1800s. Cleaner than steam-powered
to 20 miles per hour for a distance of 50 miles before the batteries needed recharging. In
the second half of the 19th century, Siegfried Marcus of Austria created the forerunner
shaped like a box, much like a horseless carriage, with little protection from rain, dust, or
other hazards. It was started by a hand-crank – a dangerous undertaking since a
backfiring engine could turn the crank into a whirling weapon known to shatter bones.
tires were solid rubber, and did not cushion bumps. The arrival of pneumatic tires made
side lamps and smelly acetylene head lamps lit the traveler’s way. There were no shock
absorbers or heating systems.
tinkers and bicycle makers were the auto repairmen of the day, and owners were
encouraged to carry repair kits that listed at least 60 things one should not be without on
the road – mastic to seal leaks in the gas line, extra hoses, wire, spark plugs, towing
By 1900 there were 50 automobile-manufacturing companies and some 8,000 cars
registered in the United States. Each car was hand-made and cost about $1,550. With an
average wage of $12.74 per week, only the wealthy could afford cars. The masses
advent of mass production, that opened the door to mass car ownership.
his workers wheel carts of car parts to each car frame during production. This method
boosted factory output from 425 cars a year to 2500 in 1907. In 1908, Henry Ford – Olds’
great rival – improved the system by adding a conveyor belt that brought the car frame to
1916, and $290 by 1924. Ford’s mantra was “fast and cheap” – and that did not leave
that dried the fastest. He sold 1 million cars by 1921 and 15 million between 1908 and
and it made the industry the paragon of technological progress.
Engineering milestones began to enhance the popularity of the car and improve its
safety. They included the electric starter in 1911, introduced by Charles Kettering; the
synchronized transmission for easier gear shifting; improved carburetors; heaters;
mechanically operated windshield wipers; and interchangeable parts. Henry Leland,
similar models. Skeptics disagreed, so to prove his point, he shipped three cars to
England, had them disassembled, their parts all mixed together, and then reassembled.
This successful innovation increased production efficiency and reduced costs, adding to
the affordability of the auto.
By the mid-1920s, other innovators were changing the industry. William Durant
surpassed Ford in sales by offering variety. He began buying different car firms that built
to different tastes – luxury, speed, comfort, and utility. The first were Olds, Oakland (later
the Pontiac), and Cadillac. Then he bought out makers of motors, spark plugs, and other
Motors Company, the forerunner of the modern automotive operation.
The 1930s saw more reliable braking, higher-compression engines, and the world’s first
diesel engine by Mercedes. Automobile engines were becoming larger, and many had 12
and 16 cylinders. Independent front suspension was added to make larger cars more
comfortable. Design-wise, automobiles on both sides of the Atlantic were styled with
gracious proportions, long hoods, and pontoon-shaped fenders.
In 1941, the brilliant engineering that had built the automotive industry was directed
Large-scale production began in the early 1950s. New automotive features included air
6-volt to a 12-volt ignition system which improved engine performance. American cars
and portholes. Cars increased in size and weight, but power steering and brakes made
them easier to handle. Across the Atlantic, Europeans were making smaller and lighter
cars that weighed less than 2800 lb. Their sports cars had hand-fashioned aluminum
bodies over a steel chassis and framework.
come equipped with satellite-aided global positioning system (GPS) locator beacons,
enabling a remote operator to locate a vehicle, map its location, and, if necessary, direct
repair or emergency workers to the scene.
In one form or another, the vehicle has become the major transporter of people and
a dozen. Its basic design and power systems have been widely adapted to vehicles
such as the ambulance, jeep, police car, minivan, limousine, pickup truck, and tractor
Today’s automobile industry has helped to shape the financial world, from banks to the
sales represent more than one-fifth of U.S. wholesale business, and more than
Massive and internationally competitive, the automobile industry is the largest single
manufacture, distribution, servicing, or use of motor vehicles. The industry is primarily
responsible for the growth of steel and rubber production, and is the largest user of
machine tools. Specialized manufacturing requirements have driven advances in
petroleum refining, paint and plate-glass manufacturing, and other industrial processes.
Gasoline, once a waste product to be burned off, is now one of the most valuable
commodities in the world.