How Automobiles Have Transformed Human Civilization


Whether you’re driving to work or taking the kids to school, automobiles are an essential part of modern life. There are more than 1.4 billion passenger cars in operation worldwide, and people travel more than three trillion miles (five trillion kilometers) each year. Throughout the 20th century, automobiles have reshaped human civilization.

The scientific and technological building blocks for the modern car go back several hundred years. In 1885, Karl Benz invented the first motorcar with his Benz Patent-Motorwagen. By the end of the 19th century, gasoline-powered cars had conquered the world’s roads. By this time, most cars had a closed all-steel body, a self-starter, hydraulic brakes and a syncromesh transmission.

Today, there are a wide range of vehicles available for all kinds of drivers. Some, like sports cars and sedans, are designed to handle fast acceleration and high speeds, while others, such as trucks and SUVs, are designed for family-friendly comfort and off-road adventures. There are even special vehicles, like crane vehicles at construction sites and fork-lifts in warehouses, that are specifically designed for certain purposes.

In America, Henry Ford revolutionized automobile manufacturing with the assembly line, which made his Model T affordable to middle-class families. This period was a heyday for the automobile industry, which saw the development of innovative technologies such as electric windows, the air-cooled engine, the one-cylinder, fifteen-horsepower, tiller-steered Oldsmobile of 1901-1906 and the four-cylinder, six-horsepower, $600 Ford Model N of 1906-1907. During this era, the automobile became the primary mode of transportation for many American families.