The automobile is one of the greatest inventions in history and has shaped the way we live, work, and play. It allows us to travel long distances quickly and efficiently, connecting cities, towns, and rural areas and opening up new social and recreational activities. It reshaped urban design and spawned government services such as police, ambulances, roads and highways, and businesses like gas stations, hotels, and amusement parks. Automobiles have become so ubiquitous that they are now the dominant mode of transportation, with Americans driving over three trillion miles (five billion kilometers) each year.
The development of the automobile has been a story both of great promise and significant problems. The car brought with it new freedoms and opportunities for people to move about, but it also contributed to suburban sprawl and exacerbated the problem of city congestion. Its engine generated air pollution, contributing to health issues in many cities and affecting the climate. Its drivers sometimes caused accidents and fought with pedestrians, and its soaring price made it unobtainable for many.
Automobiles are now a vital part of the world’s economy and society. Inventors and engineers have continued to improve the automobile over time, and today’s cars represent a remarkable feat of engineering that is constantly evolving for efficiency, safety, power, and environmental responsibility. Automobile construction has changed from handcrafting to automated assembly lines, and the engine — the vehicle’s powerhouse — has transformed from early steam engines to gasoline to electric systems.
While the inventors who developed the first automobiles may have faded into historic oblivion, the names of Walter Chrysler, Louis Chevrolet, David Dunbar Buick, Ransom E. Olds, and Henry Ford are still etched on the front of American car nameplates. These men, along with the likes of Karl Benz and Gottlich Wilhelm Daimler, have been hailed as the fathers of the modern automobile, and they certainly deserve their place in history.
In the postwar era, engineering was often subordinated to questionable aesthetics and nonfunctional styling, and quality deteriorated to such an extent that in 1960s America a car might have twenty-four defects on its assembly line. Nevertheless, the automobile continues to be an essential component of the global economy and is poised to enter a new Age of Electronics. In this absorbing book, author Mark Adams explores the key shifts in automotive construction through the ages, and discusses the brilliant minds that created the automobiles we drive today. Automobiles have a fascinating history, and this book is an essential guide to understanding them. The Automobile: A Complete History, from the Invention of the Wheel to the Future of Self-Driving Vehicles, is a must-have for every automotive fanatic and historian.