A Brief History of the Automobile

Cars have been around for our entire lives and its history is one of great fascination. Sadly, no one today that was around before automobiles were invented. Before you jump up to argue, the oldest living person was born in 1900 and the first automobile was invented around 1885. So, everyone alive today is younger than the first automobile.

Birth and Beyond

These machines of motion have been with us since birth and have played a detrimental role in our lives. Most towns in the U.S lack decent public transport, so it is safe to say almost everyone owns or has ridden in a car before.

Throughout the decades, these modern marvels have changed and adapted to our needs and desires. If you saw the first car, you wouldn’t even think to call it a car, yet, that’s what it was. It was strange looking, but it performed the basics of what a car does.

The First(s)

Before I jump into talking about today’s new electric self-driving Ubers and Teslas, let’s look at those first vehicles to see what type of cars they were and about what time they began to change.

If we are going to get technical, the first “car” was created in 1769 by Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot. While it is technically an automobile, in all honesty, this thing was more like a trackless train than a car. It was an absolute giant, ran on coal-powered stream, and had a top speed of no more than 5 mph.

The real first car, that car that most people consider to be the first, was completed around 1885 by Carl Benz; the same Mr. Benz that would later build the extremely successful luxury car company known as Mercedes Benz. His revolutionary machine had only three wheels, two seats, and a single-cylinder four stroke engine. This first car, and others like it, are where the term “horseless carriage” came from as they looked no different from a typical carriage at the time. Take away the engine, third wheel, and add an axle and one wouldn’t even know it to be different.

Although more automobiles were produced after Benz’s first, the 1901 Mercedes, designed by Wilhelm Maybach, is in truth the first “modern” automobile. At thirty-five horsepower and a top speed of around 53 mph, this car was a revelation in Europe despite less than a thousand made.

Automation and Big Business

The next great mile marker in automobile history would be Ford’s automation. With his assembly line open in 1910, Ford was able to mass produce his famous Model T at an incredibly fast rate at the low price of $575 in 1912; less than the average annual U.S. wage at the time. Unsurprisingly, Ford’s techniques spread rapidly throughout the auto industry, resulting in more mass production and affordable vehicles.

From there, companies like Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler became the top auto manufacturers in the country by the mid-1920s. Within a short amount of time, cars became a necessity and commonplace rather than a luxury and rarity.

As vehicles developed and improved, long distant travel became quicker and easier for the individual. With the U.S. leading the auto industry, more and more cars were manufactured every year. Auto company competition became brutal which pushed innovation and improvements throughout the industry, from improved engine blocks to better suspension.

Though fewer auto manufacturers remained active, the general goal and design of cars began to synchronize. America and the world sought after an affordable, comfortable, and easy car to drive. With all those factors easily met, style and brand loyalty became the main determining factor in which company was on top.

Today and Tomorrow

Today, with even more innovation, technology, and variety, it’s difficult to even tell some cars apart without their logo. Companies are almost able to survive based on brand loyalty alone. This is in part due to the uniformity amongst most car brands and the lack of price variance in many car models.

Cars have sure come a long way since the late 1800s, but they still have a long way to go. With Tesla’s “autopilot” feature and Ubers self-driving car, the future of the automobile is quickly changing in so many exciting ways. Who knows what will come next!







Author: B. Delamater

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