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The Evolution of the Automobile

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During this period, Karl Benz formed the Benz Company and built his own three wheeled vehicle, called the Benz Motorwagen. He was granted a patent for it on January 29, 1886. This design is considered to be the the first, true commercial automobile. It was powered by a gasoline engine, and steered by the front wheel. The passengers and the engine were supported by the two other wheels in the rear. Karl Benz is also recognized with the invention of the the accelerator and clutch pedals, the gearshift, the radiator, the carburetor, and the ignition system which made use of sparks from a battery. He also manufactured the first available truck in history, in 1895.

The two separate businesses, Daimler Motor Company, and the Benz Company, grew dramatically by the 1920’s. At the time, they were major competors of eachother. However, in 1926, the two merged with one another to form Daimler-Benz. They branded all of their vehicles under the name ‘Mercedes Benz’ in honor of the most important model in Daimler Motor Company’s history. Aside from just automobiles, Daimler-Benz is noted with creating aircraft, tank, and submarine engines for World War II. Currently, Daimler-Benz is also doing its part to fight against automobiles that are producing pollution. Mercedes is actually directing their attention to the development of cars powered by hydrogen gas. This is in contrast to electricity, as other makes are using. Many believe fueling vehicles by means of hydrogen gas is the most promising technology.

For the United States of America, it all began in 1879, when George Selden filed for his patent on the first US road engine. The high speed internal combustion engine had yet to be invented at this time, and Selden managed to keep the patent pending for over 15 years. By 1900, only one in every 9,500 Americans owned an automobile. Forty percent of them were steam powered; thirty-eight percent were electric, and twenty two percent were powered by gasoline burnt in an internal combustion engine . License plates first appeared on cars in 1901, due to the growing amount of drivers. In 1895, Americans began to devote attention to electric vehicles. Europe had already done so. America started this with an electric tricycle that was built by A. L. Ryker and William Morrison. Many innovations followed after this, and the interest in motor vehicles increased greatly during the late 1890s. In 1897, the first commercial application was established as a fleet of New York City taxi’s built by the Electric Carriage and Wagon Company of Philadelphia. So even in the 1800’s, America saw taxis. Although they of course looked much different they do today, the concept was still the same and the served the same purpose. It was an idea that never went away.

Ransom Olds is often considered the pioneer of the American automobile. He opened the first automobile factory in Detroit in 1901. He actually was the first creator of the assembly line, although most credit goes to Henry Ford because of his perfection of the design in later years. During the first year of operations the Oldsmobile Company produced 425 cars. Ransom became the first automobile manufacturer to prepare for genuine volume production. He introduced the curved-dash Olds priced at just $625.00 in an attempt to attract buyers. His plan worked for several years. Olds sold 425 the first year and 5,000 units by 1905, but as Henry Ford discovered with the Model T, mass production set a great trap for the others in the industry. Oldsmobile was facing great problems now.


Henry Ford incorporated the Ford Motor Company in 1903. He paid a huge contribution to the auto industry in countless ways. However, two particular inventions reign in importance. Above all, even though Ransom Olds patented the first assembly line in 1903, Henry Ford is frequently recognized with higher regard because of his perfecting of this concept in 1913. Henry is also credited for the creation of the Model T. This vehicle was the first mass produced car that was cheap enough for average citizens, and deemed reliable enough as well. Among many other contributions, Henry helped the display company’s reputation for engineering excellence by personally piloting a Model B vehicle to a new land speed record of 91 miles per hour. This was a true achievement for the time. Because of such a great reputation for engineering quality, the Ford Motor Company thrived rapidly to great prosperity.

On October 1, 1908, Henry Ford put the first Model T on the road. The 4-cylinder, 20-horsepower Model T was available in two styles. The runabout sold for $825.00, the “touring” model could be had for $25 more. Although the car originally sold for just $825.00, this price fell to $350.00 by the 1920’s because of the cars’ enormous popularity. During the last three months of 1908, the Ford Motor Company sold 6,000 cars. The combination of reputation, quality, and low-price helped the Model T become the first real car for all classes of Americans. On the broader scale, by 1910, there were nearly 500,000 automobiles on America’s roads. U.S. auto production passed 3.7 million units. The Ford Model T accounted for just fewer than 52% of cars produced in the U.S by 1923. This marks what an impact the car clearly had on the American public.


General Motors sold 1.9 million cars and trucks and netted a $248 million profit by the year 1929. However, with the Great Depression of the 1930’s, GM sales were dramatically cut. In 1932, profits dipped to less than 1/3 of the 1929 record. General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler accounted for at least 80% of all new car sales. In this last great year of the automobile boom, American manufacturers produced 5.3 million units, a number not surpassed until 1949. The U.S. had 26.7 million registered vehicles, and motorists traveled an estimated 198 billion miles during the year. Fuel consumption for automobiles in the U.S. averaged 599 gallons of gasoline per year. General Motors introduced the automatic transmission in 1939, and this was one of the most revolutionary discoveries since the founding of the automobile over fifty earlier.

The Packard was a luxury American brand formed in Detroit, Michigan in 1899. The company was founded by three brothers. They introduced their first automobile 1902. It was a 3-speed, chain-driven vehicle powered by a 12 horsepower, one-cylinder engine. The Packard was considered the number one leader in the American luxury car market in the 1920’s. While the Ford Model T was selling for around $440.00, a Packard demanded a much higher price of around $2,600. This showed its position in the luxury market, not only in the United States, but overseas, as well. However, the Packard, as every other business, struggled through the depression of the 1930’s. With dwindling sales throughout the 1940’s and poor design decisions, such as the addition of a second assembly line, Packard eventually had no choice but to merge with Studebaker in 1954. The manufacturer then struggled its way to 1964 before ceasing production completely.


The naissance of the utmost renowned automobile manufacturer of all time, dates back to1904. This is when the partnership between Henry Royce and Hon C. Rolls was established. The car that made this company famous was chillingly named the ‘Silver Ghost.’ The company is none other than Rolls-Royce, of course. Production of all Rolls-Royce vehicles has always been very limited. In fact, it was not until 1933 that they company sold more than 1000 cars in a year. The Silver Ghost car was an exceptionally dignified machine that went on sale in 1906. Rolls-Royce is deemed a prominent force in World War II for its use of the first gas-turbine engine. These powerplants proved to be of much aid during the war for their strength and durability. Over the years, Rolls-Royce had its ups and downs. The company ended up going bankrupt in 1971. Although production continued, Vickers bought the company in 1979. Again, in 1998, it was sold to Volkswagen, and finally to BMW in 2003. Throughout all of the changing ties and financial pressures, the iconic existence of a Rolls-Royce was never challenged.


The year 1964 saw two landmark achievements in the World of cars. One of these milestones was the introduction of seatbelts. Studebaker was the first manufacturer to provide them as standard equipment on all of their models. Secondly, Ford made one of the greatest decisions in their history by introducing the sporty Mustang in a desperate attempt to generate sales for the company. Ford did not have high hopes for the Mustang at first. The engineers simply tossed together basic assemblies and parts, many of which were developed and used in an inexpensive, compact sedan called the Falcon. The company then proceeded to fabricate the Mustang with a wide array of ostentatious extras that were deemed appealing to the youth of that time. The base price was only $2,300, and because buyers purchased an average of $1,000 worth of optional extras, the Mustang generated extremely profitable sales for Ford. The fascinating irony in this development is that the Mustang was far from a well thought out concept. And yet, it turned into one of the greatest triumphs in automotive history.

Another one of the most memorable cars ever made is the Volkswagen Beetle. Introduced in 1945, this car was Volkswagens mainstay in its time. In February 1972 it surpassed the production record of the Ford Model T when the 15,007,034th car was completed. The vehicle, in its same basic form, thrived until 1977 in Europe and the United States. In Mexico, however, the Beetle continued production until 1994! Forty-nine years is an implausible production run for a single vehicle. By this time, total sales had passed 21,000,000. The longevity of the Beetle was the result of three indispensable enticements: low price, versatility, and reliability.


The ‘supercar’ nomenclature is well known tag to most people. It classifies a car that is astonishingly elite, shockingly expensive, and outlandishly powerful. However, these vehicle types were not available in the early development of the automobile. One of the first classified supercars would most definitely be the 1936 Bugatti Type 57SC. With its 200 horsepower motor, ultra-lightweight construction, and 125 mile per hour top speed, it is considered to be the initial supercar to many. With the introduction of this vehicle from such an exclusive car manufacturer, numerous other designs began appearing in the industry.

Founder, Jean Bugatti, personally styled the Type 57SC. Some of his design highlights include riveted fins and oval doors incorporated with kidney-shaped side windows. It was the first vehicle to try using an alloy made from magnesium and aluminum in its construction. This was done to help keep the car as light as possible. However, this also made it extremely flammable. As a result, every panel had to be riveted into place, one by one. To many, this simply adds unique character to the Type57S. It is examples like this that makes supercars so overtly special. The distinctive individuality each of them possess is unmatched by standard cars of today and the past. Additional prominent forces in the field include the likes of Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Delahaye.


As the years progressed, vehicles in general were getting larger and larger. Cadillac was producing the longest, most massive vehicles the world had ever seen in the 1950’s. These mammoth cars were a symbol of elegance for the time, and every vehicle manufacturer jumped onboard. This all came to a striking halt, when in 1973, the OPEC oil crisis occurred. With the crisis taking place, the cars were too great of gas guzzlers and a major change had to be done in order to solve this problem. The Japanese auto maker, Toyota, produced much downsized vehicles, and they made much more sense in a time like this, where gas consumption needed limitations. Smaller vehicles took a lot of adjusting for Americans, because people were so used to driving such gargantuan vehicles.

However, there was no option. American automobile manufacturers began producing downsized vehicles eventually. As much as the American public did not initially conform to the idea, in the end, there was no other choice. However, like most everything else, these smaller cars turned out to be considerably more popular as the years progressed. Today, undersized cars occupy a much greater deal of the market than large ones. The oil crisis of 1973 is evidence of the potential power that third World resource suppliers have in dealing with the developed world. Not suprisingly, the politics of oil still prove to be dangerous, even in today’s world.


Over the years, the automotive industry has faced increasingly harsh criticism for the environmental issues internal combustion engines cause. Motor vehicles actually generate more air pollution than any other machine on Earth. The toxic mixtures of chemicals released by these engines are extremely dangerous to our health. According to the American Lung Association, air pollution kills between 60,000 and 120,000 people in the United States of America every year and costs an astounding $93 billion dollars in medical bills. Some of these air polluting gases that are attributed to gasoline powered vehicles are chlorofluorocarbon, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide, methane, along with hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides. Another major problem of traditional motor vehicles is the effects they have on nature while they rot in junkyards. These yards litter the enviornment, contain thousands of broken up cars and cause problems because of their oil, lead, and battery acid contents. When these chemicals enter the ground, the chlorofluorocarbons leak into the atmosphere, generating tremendous amounts of pollution.

Car companies in Europe as well as America are responding to the demands the government has placed on them. Changes are being made in the designs of automobiles. These changes will certainly take time, considering it has been over a century for the gasoline combustion engine to become what it is today. In the United States, car companies have joined forces to develop newer cleaner technologies. The research on alternate fuel sources for cars began long ago, but it was not until 1999 that the first hybrid electric powered vehicle was sold. This car was manufactured by automaker Honda, and was called the Insight. An electric hybrid vehicle employs the operation of a small engine to assist a typically battery powered electric system. The electric motor propels the front wheels at low speeds, and then at higher speeds, the standard internal combustion engine takes over. When the engine is running, it automatically charges the batteries used for the electric motor simultaneously.

There are endless amounts of benefits in owning an electric vehicle. First and foremost, they, of course, provide a tremendous improvement for the environment versus traditional gasoline motors. In fact, electric vehicles have absolutely no tailpipe emission. It is stated that electric vehicles are 98 percent cleaner than gasoline powered vehicles. The only real emission of electric vehicles is water. Even the lead in the batteries of electric vehicles is in a very stable form. Electric vehicles pose no risk in contaminating the area. This method of powering cars has caught on immensely since the late 1990’s, and industry professionals are becoming more efficient with its use everyday.

Mercedes’ idea of hydrogen powered vehicles may prove to be the superlative method of all. The only problem with hydrogen power is the fact that it is highly flammable. This means that if it were built into a small car, the car would explode if it got into an accident. However, researchers are destined to bring this technology to passenger cars within the next century. Interestingly, a company by name of The Ballard Power Systems has created hydrogen powered buses that they are presently testing. These buses operate on hydrogen and so far have been running efficiently. The effectiveness of these buses in contrast to the Diesel fueled buses is vast.

There surely are other ways for daily commuters to contribute in helping the environment; one such method would be carpooling. Believe it or not, carpooling has a profound effect on reducing air pollution. If more everyday travelers regularly carpooled, we would see a significantly positive outcome for the environment as a whole. Another advantage of carpooling is safer roadways. This is because there are fewer cars on the road to possibly cause an accident.

In conclusion, the history of the automobile is truly fascinating. Without this innovative discovery, people would never be able to experience life’s fullest advantages. Before cars, boats and very slow traveling trains were the only ways to travel to distant places. Although there is not ONE single individual that takes credit for inventing the car, many are recognized, as all are worthy of this recognition. So many paid a considerable part in the creation of cars over the years, and although we have come such a long way, researchers are always looking into the future. These individuals are coming up with new technology every day, and so long as there are smart people in the production, surely the industry will not be slowing down anytime soon. Each and every evolution of this remarkable creation has been a notable one. The automobile reigns as the most significant invention to date, and is continuing its lead today with cleaner, more efficient fuels and ever-changing concepts. In light of hybrid engineered motors, the automobile ascends to a new radiance. It will still be the provider of such great ease in peoples’ daily lives, but will now do so in an environmentally safe manner. The formation of the automobile is without question, precisely the most monumental achievement the world has ever seen.


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“Hybrids in the Third World?” Ebsco Host. 31 July 2006. Kean University. 22 Nov. 2006. .

Inventors.about.com. 2006. Automobile History. 25 Nov. 2006.

Loc.gov. Sept. 2004. The Automotive Industry. 22 Nov. 2006.

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PopularMechanics.com. Jan. 2000. History Lessons on a Century of Cars. 25 Nov. 2006. .

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Wikipedia.com. Nov. 2006. < http://www.wikipedia.com>.

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