Automobiles are vehicles powered by internal-combustion engines that use fuel, most often petroleum gasoline. Modern automobiles are complex technical systems that include a number of subsystems with specific design functions. The overall system includes the body, chassis, wheels and axles, engine, transmission, powertrain, control systems, safety devices, and emissions-control technologies. The automobile has revolutionized society, opening up new work possibilities and increasing the range of places where people can live relative to their jobs. It has also brought with it environmental harm through air pollution and a drain on dwindling world oil reserves.
The automobile was first invented in Germany and France in the late 1800s, but American manufacturers dominated the industry throughout the 1920s. Ransom Eli Olds introduced the idea of the assembly line at his Oldsmobile factory in 1902, and Henry Ford perfected it, making it possible to mass-produce his Model T car at affordable prices.
Since then, automobiles have become essential to daily life for the majority of the world’s population. In the United States alone, the average motorist drives three trillion miles per year.
In the early 1900s, Americans became the first nation to have a large enough middle class to buy cars. The car opened up new opportunities for leisure activities, and allowed people to live in urban areas and visit rural places, where services like restaurants and amusement parks began to appear. Women like Nell Richardson and Alice Burke drove across the country in 1916 to advocate for women’s right to vote, decorating their cars with “vote for women” banners.