Until recently, the automobile was one of the most universal and recognizable of modern technologies. Often referred to as cars, they are self-propelled vehicles intended for passenger transportation on land and powered by internal combustion engines fueled most commonly by gasoline (petrol). The word “automobile” is derived from the Greek prefix auto, meaning self, and the Latin word mobilis, which means moving.
The modern automobile is an extremely complex technical system with dozens of subsystems that have specific design functions, such as the engine, transmission, brakes, steering, suspension, and more. It has revolutionized society, spawning a host of related industries, including manufacturing, sales, repair, parts distribution, and financing. The automobile has also shaped the culture of the United States, encouraging individuals to live in suburban communities, where they can be a stone’s throw from the convenience of shopping and restaurants.
Exactly who invented the automobile remains a matter of debate, though most historians credit Karl Benz with inventing the first true automobile in 1885-1886. His Benz Patent-Motorwagen used an internal-combustion flat engine that ran on four-strokes. Benz’s creation inspired other inventors, who refined the motor and improved the car. By 1920, gasoline-powered automobiles had taken over the streets of Europe and America. American manufacturer Henry Ford introduced mass production techniques that quickly became standard, and Ford, General Motors and Chrysler emerged as the “Big Three” of the industry. Automobiles accelerated the development of suburbia, where families lived in their own houses with green grass lawns surrounding them. They also fueled a long-standing American predilection for personal freedom of movement and action.