Powered by an internal combustion engine that is fueled most often by gasoline, an automobile (or car) is one of the most universal of modern technologies. With an estimated 1.4 billion vehicles currently in operation worldwide, it is the dominant form of passenger transportation.
In American history the automobile is the symbol of the Industrial Age and a force for change in twentieth-century life. The industry became the backbone of a new consumer goods-oriented society and, in the 1920s, it was the nation’s largest employer and the biggest buyer of many ancillary industries, including steel and petroleum.
No invention more dramatically affected American everyday life in the first half of the 20th century than the automobile. Henry Ford’s Model T runabout, introduced in 1912, revolutionized automotive production by reconciling state-of-the-art design with moderate price. The Cycle and Automobile Trade Journal called the four-cylinder, fifteen-horsepower, tiller-steered Ford model “the very first instance of a motorcar in which state-of-the-art design has been reconciled with moderate cost.”
The automobile allows people to get where they want when they want without having to depend on other people. It gives families a chance to spend time together in the same place. It provides women a way to work outside the home. It encourages family vacations to remote places that were once impossible to reach. It also helps teenagers to discover a freedom of choice in their leisure activities and facilitates more relaxed sexual attitudes.