History of the Car

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Published: 25th October 2012
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Starting in the late 1700's, European engineers began tinkering with motor powered vehicles. Steam, combustion, and electrical motors had all been attempted by the mid 1800's. By the 1900's, it was uncertain which type of engine would power the automobile. At first, the electric car was the most popular, but at the time a battery did not exist that would allow a car to move with much speed or over a long distance. Even though some of the earlier speed records were set by electric cars, they did not stay in production past the first decade of the 20th century. The steam-driven automobile lasted into 1920's. However, the price on steam powered engines, either to build or maintain was incomparable to the gas powered engines. Not only was the price a problem, but the risk of a boiler explosion also kept the steam engine from becoming popular. The combustion engine continually beat out the competition, and the early American automobile pioneers like Ransom E. Olds and Henry Ford built reliable combustion engines, rejecting the ideas of steam or electrical power from the start.

The large-scale, production-line manufacturing of affordable automobiles was debuted by Ransom Olds in 1902 at his Oldsmobile factory located in Lansing, Michigan and based upon the assembly line techniques pioneered by Marc Isambard Brunel at the Portsmouth Block Mills, England in 1802. The assembly line style of mass production and interchangeable parts had been pioneered in the U.S. by Thomas Blanchard in 1821, at the Springfield Armory in Springfield,Massachusetts.This concept was greatly expanded by Henry Ford, beginning in 1914.

As a result, Ford's cars came off the line in fifteen minute intervals, much faster than previous methods, increasing productivity eightfold (requiring 12.5-man-hours before, 1-hour 33 minutes after), while using less manpower. It was so successful, paint became a bottleneck. Only Japan black would dry fast enough, forcing the company to drop the variety of colors available before 1914, until fast-drying Duco lacquer was developed in 1926. This is the source of Ford's apocryphal remark, "any color as long as it's black". In 1914, an assembly line worker could buy a Model T with four months' pay.

Since the 1920s, nearly all cars have been mass-produced to meet market needs, so marketing plans often have heavily influenced automobile design. It was Alfred P. Sloan who established the idea of different makes of cars produced by one company, so buyers could "move up" as their fortunes improved.

Reflecting the rapid pace of change, makes shared parts with one another so larger production volume resulted in lower costs for each price range. For example, in the 1930s, LaSalles, sold by Cadillac, used cheaper mechanical parts made by Oldsmobile; in the 1950s, Chevrolet shared hood, doors, roof, and windows with Pontiac; by the 1990s, corporate powertrains and shared platforms (with interchangeable brakes, suspension, and other parts) were common. Even so, only major makers could afford high costs, and even companies with decades of production, such as Apperson, Cole, Dorris, Haynes, or Premier, could not manage: of some two hundred American car makers in existence in 1920, only 43 survived in 1930, and with the Great Depression, by 1940, only 17 of those were left.

Before the automobile, people both lived in the city and worked in the city, or lived in the country and worked on a farm. Because of the automobile, the growth of suburbs has allowed people to live on the outskirts of the city and be able to work in the city by commuting. New jobs due to the impact of the automobile such as fast food, city/highway construction, state patrol/police, convenience stores, gas stations, auto repair shops, auto shops, etc. allow more employment for the world's growing population.

Janet Springtowne was born the daughter of a car mechanic and loved playing with her fatherís Old Junk Cars at a young age. By age 13 she could rebuild an engine from scratch. She now writes for various online news blogs.

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