Cars of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

The invention of the automobile is one of, if not the, most important of man's creations. It is responsible for the forward movement of both the U.S. and the world. While it was once considered nothing more than the fanciful dream of inventors, the automobile has since become a part of everyday life. Today's automobiles come in numerous bodies, such as trucks, vans, and SUVs. They are also equipped with technologies that are far greater than anything that auto inventors of the past could ever have imagined. Understanding automobiles of the past is the best way to appreciate where the auto industry is today and where it will be in the future.

It can be said that the journey toward automobiles began with the invention of the wheel, which is believed to have taken place at some time in 8000 B.C. Realistically, the invention of the modern cars can be tied to thousands of inventions and patents over many centuries. The most significant invention was the steam engine. In the mid-1700s Nicolas Cugnot created the first self-propelled road vehicle; prior to this invention, Ferdinand Verbiest was credited with the invention of the first self-propelled, steam powered vehicle. In the early 1800s came the electric carriage, first invented by Robert Anderson of Scotland.

Both the electric vehicles and steam-powered vehicles went through a period of popularity; however, they both had limitations which would become a hindrance. Steam vehicles were inconvenient in that they needed water to run and frequent stops were necessary in order to refill. In addition, steam cars also ran the risk of a boiler explosion, which made them less popular than electric vehicles. Electric vehicles were not so burdened, however, they were heavy and expensive and the batteries needed frequent charging which made long trips problematic. Although electric cars were initially more popular than steam powered vehicles, they did not last as long as steam vehicles.

The invention of the four-stroke engine by Nikolaus (sometimes spelled Nicolaus) Otto was a major step towards modern vehicles, and is considered the predecessor to the modern internal combustion engines. The invention of internal combustion engines opened the door to gas-powered vehicles, the first of which was built by a man named Siegfried Marcus. Although Marcus may have been the first to build the internal combustion auto, credit is often given to Karl Benz. This is generally due to the fact that Benz was the first inventor to become commercially successful. Wilhelm Maybach and Gottlieb Daimler are also important figures in the history of the modern automobile.

The first successful gasoline-powered automobile made in America was created in 1893 by J. Frank and Charles E Duryea. The two men, who were bicycle mechanics from Massachusetts, not only created the first American gas-powered car, but in 1896 they were also the first to manufacture and sell an American made car. Other more recognized and celebrated pioneers in the auto industry include Henry Ford and Ransom E. Olds. The first automobile to be produced and made available to the U.S. masses was the Oldsmobile. In 1901, it created 425 curved-dash models and its success encouraged other car manufacturers to enter the scene. One of these manufacturers was the Ford Motor Company, which sold its first car – a Model A - in 1903. In 1908, Ford Motor Company produced the Model T, which radically changed the auto industry. The vehicle was affordable to most Americans, and opened the door to car ownership across the country. The Ford Motor Company was also the first to mass produce cars, and the Model-T gave rise to the highly efficient, assembly line style of manufacturing.

With more Americans owning automobiles, people were able to more easily spread across the country. This contributed to the building of the roads, highways, and freeways that criss-cross the country today. The accomplishments of early manufacturers such as Henry Ford made it possible for cars to become such an important part of American culture. Today, gasoline-powered cars continue to dominate the market; however, pollution and global warming has increased the need for greener options. In response to this need there are a growing number of gas-electric hybrid vehicles on the road. These cars use less gasoline than gas-only vehicles and as a result emit less pollution into the air. Electric vehicles, which use no gasoline at all, have also made a comeback. Current electric vehicles are lighter than early models and can go further on a single charge. While they have not reached the same level of popularity as gas-powered or even hybrid cars, improvements are continually being made.

The future of the automobile is a diverse one. Fuel cell technology could further change the cars of the future in terms of making them more environmentally friendly. With fuel cells, electricity is created through a hydrogen and oxygen reaction. This reaction creates energy that is then stored by a battery. While fuel cells are a good environmental option, they require the appropriate infrastructure in terms of fuel cell stations for mass production. Other innovations that may be coming to cars in the future include fully automated, self-driving vehicles in which cars direct traffic flow while passengers are able to relax inside of the vehicle. Continued efforts to create flying cars could also see them becoming a future transportation option. These cars would give the driver the option to either drive or fly to their destination.

Automobiles in the U.S. have come a long way. They have become a huge part of American society and are depended upon for everyday travel needs. Despite how far the auto industry has come, cars continue to change and evolve. Considering the history of cars, the future and future developments are exciting to imagine.

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