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.
No technology has had a greater impact on the American life than the automobile. Where we live, how we work, and how we travel, what our landscape looks like, our environment have all been shaped by the automobile. There isn’t a better place that demonstrates the social, geographic, and political changes brought by the industry than Detroit, the motor city. Detroit was situated to be a center of the American automobile industry. All of the material that was needed to build was easily accessible to the city by the great lakes waterways and by rail. The automobile industry helped people with their everyday lives and changed the way people saw the world.
The 1920's were a time where North America became modernized. Whether it was the music, the culture or the growth in technology, this time era is known to most people as the point where America advanced itself to become a world renowned country. An advancement that will be focused on is the Ford Model T. During this time owning a car was a symbol of wealth. Henry Ford, the creator of the Model T, made a system that revolutionized the automobile industry as we know it today. Henry Ford made it possible for people with an average income to own a motor vehicle by creating the assembly line and the theory of mass production. "The horse, which had been the chief means of land transportation for 3,500 years, had given way to the automobile, and the country's largest industry had been born." (Gordon)
By 1899 Ford created a more proper looking motorcar with the help of wealthy businessman William Murphy. It had high wheels, a padded double bench, brass lamps, mud guards, and a "racy" look. In the same year Ford founded the Detroit Automobile Company. Within 3 years Ford had built an improved, more reliable Quadricycle, using a four-cylinder, 36 horsepower-racing engine. In 1901 his car beat what was then the world's fastest automobile in a race before a crowd of eight thousand people in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. The publicity he received for this victory allowed Ford to finance a practical laboratory for refining his auto ideas. In 1903 Ford launched his own car company, The Ford Motor Car Company, and by January 1904 he had sold 658 vehicles. By 1908 he built the famous Model T, a car that was affordable to the middle class. The automobile was no longer the toy of the rich.
The automobile changed American life, but the process was gradual. Though historians argue the date and inventor of the first automobile, we can say that Henry Ford’s creation of his Ford Motor Company in 1903 marked perhaps the major milestone of the early twentieth century automobile industry in America and around the world. Five years after the company’s inception, Ford’s legendary Model T of 1908 would revolutionize transportation and the world economy. Before the Model T, automobiles in the US were associated with only the wealthier class. Ford sought to make cars available to every American. His cars would assume the general build that continues to characterize automobiles today, and his innovation and system of production would make him a legend.[i] The automobile led to an extremely advanced system of roads and contributed to an American mentality of freedom to move.[ii] Early drivers saw both benefits and difficulties as the automobile became the standard American mode of transportation.
In 1903 the Ford Motor Company came to be. Ford, along with other investors including John and Horace Dodge raised $28,000 and in the first 15 months produced 1700 Model A cars. These cars were known for their reliability, yet were still too expensive for the average American. Over the next five years Ford and his engineers produced models with the letters B through S, the most successful of which was the Model N (priced at $500) , and the least successful was the Model K (priced at $2500). It was obvious from the Model N that the key to the companies success lay in inexpensive cars for a mass market. The answer that Ford and the American consumer were looking for was the Model T.
The birth of the automobile was truly something special. Once a far fetched dream is now what many people believe to be the back bone of the American economy. When people think about the automobile the name that comes to mind is most usually Henry Ford. Although he is not credited with the invention of the automobile, Henry Ford played a crucial role in the development of mass production. The automobile was first invented Europe in 1771 with a top speed of 2.3 miles per hour. A man by the name of Gottliech Daimler produced what was known as the milestone car in 1889, this vehicle traveled at 10 miles per hour (Brown, 105). Not more then a handful of these cars were produced over seas. Not many people had ever seen one, let alone had one. It wasn’t until Henry Ford invented the assembly line, that anyone knew what a car was. Henry Ford and the invention of the assembly line altered the American economy and revolutionized travel everywhere.
Technology was at the top of its game during this time. We had new inventions like the automobile, flights, and mass broadcasting.The automobile before was seen or known as a luxury items and only those who could afford them owned them, but by the 1920’s vehicles were being mass-produced and were commonly seen. Alfred Sloan who was the president of general motors created began devoting more time to automotive styling. His technical advances of the decade included four wheel brakes, automatic engine temperature control, schock absorbers, automatic choking, and adjustable rides; all of which improved the ride and comfort of the car (Rose,216).
After the steam engine was created in the early 17th century, many people and companies tried to take that same technology and apply it to automobiles. Nobody was successful until a British inventor by the name of Richard Trevithick created a multi passenger automobile that ran on a power source that was driven by a steam-propelled piston at high pressure (Bellis). Up until the mid 1900’s cars were only produced by specifically skilled blacksmiths, and were very expensive. There were only about 4,000 cars produced from the 1890’s to mid 1900’s (Bellis).