History of the Car
People lives changed more during twentieth
century than in any previous period in history. With so many inventions
came in this period, there are few of them that have influenced and changed
world more than automobile. Since most people alive today have grown
up in the automotive age, the impact of the automobile on the society is
Out of experiments in many places and with
many elements of design, the essential features of the automobile emerged
around the turn of the century. In the last quarter of the nineteenth
century, and especially in the 1890’s, much work was carried in France,
Germany, Great Britain, Austria, and United States to develop practical
designs of both vehicle and motor. In 1885, Gottlieb Daimler, who
had previously worked with Dr Nikolaus August Otto, applied a single cylinder
and air-cooled vertical machine to a carriage. A few years later
Daimler created his first “four wheeled wooden built light wagonnete” powered
by petrol. Karl Benz of Manheim (Germany) then built an engine specifically
intended for motor cars, leading to the four-wheelers (Thomas 321).
As petrol cars became more dependable the advantage of not having to wait
until steam was generated gave them clear superiority over the steamers,
and the self-starter took away the principal advantage from electric propulsion.
At the beginning of the century, petrol driven internal-combustion motor
car had established itself as the dominant mechanical road vehicle and
started its expansion with great rapidity (Ware 291).
In 1894, the French newspaper La Petit
Journal introduced a new invention to the wider public by organizing a
trial run of motor cars from Paris to Rouen. In 1895 the race was
organized from Paris to Bordeaux. The winner averaged fifteen miles
an hour. In the first decade of 1900’s, French led the world in the
production of cars, and automobiles even took part in French army maneuvers.
In England, they were allowed to travel on roads at fourteen miles an hour.
Around the same time in the United States, Henry Ford was making twin-cylinder
water-cooled engine cars, which traveled at 25 miles an hour. (Zeldin II
640). Car ownership early in the century was limited to the rich and privileged.
The revolution in the whole character of the car, as well as its method
of manufacture, was made by the introduction of mass production.
In 1908, Henry Ford, a farmer’s boy from Michigan with little education,
conceived the idea of a car designed for the masses. After careful
examination of the Sears Roebuck factory, he began mass production of his
model T car. The benefit of this mass-production was a low-priced
and affordable car. It was the beginning of mass production and mass
acceptance of automobiles. The consequence was that, in 1913, there
were already over a million automobiles on the United States roads as opposed
to 200,000 in Great Britain, 90,000 in France, and a mere 70,000 in Germany
(Zeldin 649). Cars, which were not mentioned in the census of the
United States’ business in 1900, soon will be at the top of the list.
The rapid development of cars required
a great range of facilities. Around the turn of the century and for
nearly two decades into the 1900’s, most roads continued to be made of
sand, clay, or dirt. So, when it rained, they became quagmires.
The roads surfaced with gravel or sand which had served for the traffic
of the horse-drawn vehicles, were soon find to be entirely inadequate for
motor transport. The car whipped up a cloud of dust, loosened and
wore the surface, and broke down the roadbed with its weight. In
1903, The Grand Prix automobile race from Paris to Madrid was called off
in the mid-course after many of the drivers, blinded by dust, crashed to
death. It wasn’t until the end of the first decade of this century,
when modern road-building techniques began to evolve rapidly, that roads
began to be paved with concrete. Constructors started to use asphalt,
which provided a solid surface (Ware 294). By than, however, there
were thousands automobiles worldwide. So, driving a car in the early
part of the century was more adventure than pleasure. Getting stuck
in mud midway through trip, hitting a rut and breaking an axle or sliding
into a ditch were all-too-common occurrences for early motorists.
Car travel depended upon the availability
of the fuel. In the beginning the fuel resources were located in
the few places such as: United States, northern South America, Romania,
and southern Russia. Retail petrol-supply points were needed along
the roads. Car travels, also, brought need for overnight accommodation.
At first private citizens, who lived along the main roads offered tourist
accommodation in their spare rooms. Later they built a small single-room
cabins with space at the side for the car.
By 1955 motor vehicles in the United States
were more numerous than homes. There was one motor vehicle for every
2.6 persons in the population. Comparable figures for other countries
showed one vehicle per 4.4 persons in New Zealand, one per 9 persons in
Denmark (the most in Europe), one per 70 persons in the Soviet Union, one
per 92 persons in Brazil, one per 98 persons in Japan, and one per 4,975
persons in China. Five years later European continent became crowded
with cars, and on the British roads it increased to one vehicle per 6 inhabitants.
The major automobile production in the mid-century was in the United States.
More than two thirds of the world’s passenger cars and half of its busses
were being manufactured in the United States. Only mechanical excellence
of the car wasn’t enough any more. Manufacturers started to emphasize
other features in order to beat the competition and sell more cars, which
became not only a means of transport, but also a means of display.
Lower-priced cars copied the style of the higher-priced models until the
cars on the road became virtually undistinguishable. Various improvements
in design offered increased safety too. Glass that cracks but not
breaks, metal body, hydraulic brakes, and improved tyres reduced danger
of driving the car (Thomas 323).
Despite all improvements automobiles remained
a dangerous vehicle, and automobile accidents constituted a major source
of death and injury in the 1950’s. More than 35,000 people perished
annually from motor accidents in the United States in the 1950’s.
In Great Britain during the Second World War the number of deaths caused
by automobile accidents was more than two-thirds as great as fatalities
from the air raids, in spite of the fact that motor travel was severely
limited by petrol rationing (Ware 297). This wasn’t the only disadvantage.
Congestion of the roads and of city streets grew worse with each passing
year. Parking became a huge problem. Fumes from the exhaust
of thousand of vehicles became a menace to health. Noise also made
a city living more difficult.
The oil resources, on which the whole “car-age”
depended, were discovered in a few new areas: Persian Gulf, Arabian Peninsula,
and the Indonesian archipelago (Ware 295). The whole network of pipelines
was established to carry oil to great distances. Tanker fleets and
tank cars were also means of transportation of oil.
Car had a unique cultural impact on virtually
all aspects of life in 1950’s. The freedom and mobility afforded
by auto ownership created the suburbs and shopping malls, helped lead to
the death of core cities and changed housing styles. For example,
in United States 70% of the families had a car in 1955 and one family in
10 owned two cars or more (Ware 297). The face of our cities as well
has undergone major surgery since the advent of automobile. Since
most available jobs were around industrial and manufacturing centers at
the turn of the century, most people were living densely packed lives in
the cities. However a major population shift began to occur thanks
primarily to the ease of transportation provided by the automobile.
Now one didn’t have to live near the place of the work, for transportation
was much easier. Suburban areas sprang up and many people fled the
overcrowding in the cities. In the United States after World War
II, the garage gets moved forward and attached to the house and become
symbol of success. The automobile also gave people access to cheap
land where they could build bigger, more sprawling homes. There would
be no ranch houses without the car. Social life wasn’t limited to
one’s own neighborhood or even town any more. It wasn’t that long
ago, with the exception of the intrepid pioneers, that the average citizen
would never move further than ten miles from the place they were born.
At this period it is not unusual for individuals to move hundreds and sometimes
thousands of miles from their birthplace. This new mobility has been
a major factor in the changing of the family structure. For most
of the history the extended family and multi-generation households were
the norm. The automobile has influenced every area of pop culture,
from movies to literature, too. Movies such as the 1955 James Dean
classic “Rebel Without A Cause”, with its 1949 customized Mercury, forever
will be linked with rebellious teens.
In the United States, the automobile came
within reach of the average wage earner earlier in the century. In
the Europe, it didn’t do so until 1950’s. That explains the disparity
in the number of cars in use between United States and Europe. In
1950, France had 2,150,000 cars in use, Great Britain 3,290,000, and United
Roads in the 1950’s were incomparably better
than those from the beginning of the century. Least noticeable, but
perhaps important, were miles of local, secondary roads and streets that
allow people to drive within a community and get to the highways.
Through traffic was separated from local by special through motorways.
The Autostrade in Italy, Autobhanen in Germany, and Turnpike in the United
States were some of the best roads. These fast throughways permitted
extremely rapid automobile travel from city to city. In 1957, there
were nearly 4,000 miles of such motorways in West and East Germany and
formerly Germany Poland, about 600 miles in the rest of Europe (mainly
Italy), and some 2,500 miles in the United States (Thomas 330).
It is hard to exaggerate the influence
of the motor car on the industrialized countries. From the early
years, when it was an experimental vehicle of interest only to technical
enthusiasts, automobile became a necessity in the lives of millions of
families and businesses. It became, at the same time, a symbol of
prestige and status and the basis of a major industry. As the automobile
hangs precariously on the cliff edge between necessity and status symbol
one must agree that to get by today without an automobile is quite an impossible