The automobile has had a profound impact on the United States. It has brought us superhighways, paved bridges, motels, vacations, suburbia, and the economic growth which accompanied them. Today, the automotive industry and nearly one million related industries employ about twenty percent of all American workers. The US produces more automobiles than every other nation combined. This product has become a symbol of the American way of life. The US is sometimes referred to as "a nation on wheels".
Considering these facts, one must wonder what the United States was like before the revolutionary innovation of the automobile. The first automobile was invented by a French artillery officer, Nicholas JosephCugnot. His self-propelled vehicle was powered by steam. Other models of steam-powered automobiles were created by different innovators, but these models were eventually made obsolete by the internal-combustion powered car invented by Jean Joseph Etienne Leni or. This technology reached the United States when Charles and FrankDuryea made the first successful American gasoline automobile. Ransom Eli Olds had the earliest assembly line for automobiles and began mass production.
Later, Henry Ford " 's Model T dominated the car industry and remained the most popular automobile for nearly twenty years. In the early days of the automobile, there was not a real automotive industry. Only few hundred cars were made in the early years of automobile manufacturing. They were very seldom seen and only could be afforded by the wealthy. The car was such an unfamiliar spectacle, it was sometimes featured in circuses.
Eventually, the car began to increase in popularity. During the 1920's, the US economy was on the rise and one of the main reasons was the automobile. Assembly lines were becoming more efficient, thus, admitting cars to be made more cheaply and allowing prices of cars to drop. From 1909 to 1925, the price of a Ford Model T dropped from $950 to $290.
This allowed more people to be able to afford them. Millions were sold. The automobile, once a rare luxury, was becoming apart of American life. It had a ripple effect on US industries. With the increase in automobiles, came an increase in related products. Large quantities of glass, rubber and steel were needed to produce the multitude of automobiles in demand by the public, and petroleum was needed to fuel them.
Industries which made these products flourished. Also, the construction industry experienced a boom and new techniques of construction were invented. Roads and highways were built to accommodate the increasing traffic. Suburbs grew rapidly. Gas stations, motels, restaurants and other places were built to provide for those traveling by automobile.
1 Big business also greatly benefited from the automobile's ability to make some business techniques simpler. Corporations could now transport products further and faster for less money than before. This, in turn, allowed for wider market areas in commerce, selling more products to more people and generating a greater revenue. Globalization of products (assembling products from parts made worldwide) was also made easier.
The automobile helped the United States get out of The Great Depression and win the war. Two months after the US entered World War II, the last passenger car was made. The automobile industry was converted to wartime manufacture. The Office of Production Management (OPM) was now given the power to enforce its decisions on the war production of vehicles. The OPM, along with the War Production Board and The Automotive Council for War Production, supervised the conversion of peacetime automotive production to that of wartime.
Chrysler Corporation mass-produced tanks. Many car companies made over two and a half million trucks for the military. General Motors produced nearly twelve billion dollars worth of military equipment, most of which the company had never made before (shells, bombs, fuses, navigation equipment, artillery, machine guns and antiaircraft weaponry). They also produced engines and vehicles. Theautomobile industry made over 450,000 aircraft engines and almost 170,000 marine engines. The Ford Motor Company mass-produced bomber aircraft.
Automakers more than doubled their productive capacity during the war. 2 This not only helped to win World War II but pumped much needed capital into the US economy to bring it out of The Great Depression. Towards the end of the war, an Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion was established to reconvert the automotive industry to peacetime production. 3 The car business did not return to its full peacetime capacity until 1949. The public was buying automobiles once again by the millions. Suburbs continued to sprout everywhere.
Nation-wide network of interstate highways was planned and constructed. The construction industry continued where it left off nearly ten years earlier in constantly building to keep up with the ever increasing traffic. The automobile continued to enrich the US economy. The automobile not only effected the United States financially, but also culturally. Before the automobile, people traveled by means of bicycles, trains, street cars, or horse-drawn carriages.
These transportation methods were slow, limited and not private. Having a car meant having more freedom. People could go to far away places very conveniently. They could take a vacation on a weekend or visit relatives who did not live nearby. By living in suburbs, people were excluded from the hustle and bustle of the city, while they were only a short drive away from their favorite downtown stores. Theautomobile was a faster way of going places and moving things.
It promoted the fast-paced way of American life and became a symbol of it, earning the title " quintessentially American". 4 The automobile helped to revolutionize the way the average American pictured the average blue collar factory worker. It brought women to the manufactory work force. Originally, nearly all of the factory workers were white men. When the men in the factories went off to fight in World War II, new employees were needed to take their places. Automobile factories began employing women and soon "Rosie the Riveter" had many female coworkers along her side working the assembly line.
The automobile industry also brought about a demographic change. Minorities began to work in the military vehicle factories. Once they moved north for these jobs, they bought homes and stayed. 5 Although the automobile is thought to be the godsend innovation of the twentieth century, it has had some considerably unfavorable effects on the US.
It seems that an article about pollution can always be found in morning newspaper. The automobile is the chief contributor to air and noise pollution. Some cities have become unbearably loud. Although noise is annoying, air pollution is dangerous to many of Earth's inhabitants. I twas once estimated that seventy percent of smog is produced by motor vehicles. Many species of plants have become endangered or are now extinct due to air pollution.
Sulfur-dioxide (contained in automobile emissions) exposure is the third leading cause of lung disease. 6 Large numbers of highway fatalities is another problem today. As cars become faster and more powerful, they become more dangerous. Automobile accidents are among the leading causes of death and injury for the populace of the United States and is the leading cause of death for teenagers.
Each year, approximately 56,000 people are killed in car accidents. 7 As a result of the automobile's negative effects on the US, the government has become more involved with the safety of Americans. Many actions by the government such as the seatbelt requirement and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have made the automobile safer for the general public. The automobile has had many different effects on the United States, both good and bad. In the future it will continue to shape our culture, commerce and surroundings. 1 Thomas Di Bacco, Lorna Mason, Christian Apply, History of the United States, vol. 2 (Evanston: McDougal Littell Inc. ), p. 324.2 John Rae, The American Automobile Industry, (Boston: G.K. Hall & Company), p. 89-92.3 John Rae, The American Automobile Industry, (Boston: G.K. Hall & Company), p. 96.4 John Rae, The American Automobile Industry, (Boston: G.K. Hall & Company), p. 188.5 John Rae, The American Automobile Industry, (Boston: G.K. Hall & Company), p. 89-90.6 American Lung Association of California, web 13 April 2001.7 National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, web 14 April 2001.