The invention of the car has had a profound impact on the world, which is something that only a select few inventions have been capable of. The automobile has brought more positive and negative effects than any other means of transportation throughout history. As the most used and mainstream method of transport, cars have shaped the way people all across the globe live, in all aspects of life. They have played a role in family life, the economy, as well as the environment. And without them, the American culture would not be what it is today.
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The history of the car traces back to 1879, when Karl Benz invented the first vehicle, despite Henry Ford having received the title as the godfather of the American car industry. However; the original idea of the automobile cannot be solely attributed to Benz, because many before him, such as Leonardo da Vinci, J.H. Genevois, Robert Valturio, and several others all proposed an idea of a self-propelled vehicle of some sort. The first mass-produced automobile became publicly available in the 1920s with Ford’s Model T (Britannica). And while Henry Ford may not have officially invented the car, he changed the industry forever by revolutionizing the way they were manufactured. As they became more mass produced with his use of the assembly line, more people were able to afford them. These changes lowered the cost substantially, to the point where the average American could own a vehicle. Ford wanted to make sure that the Model T would be available to a majority of the public, and not just the wealthy. His low production cost enabled the final cost of the car to be lowered as well. From 1900-1920, the number of car owners in America skyrocketed drastically (Elliot 1).
As urban and suburbia populations increased, cars made it easier for people to commute. They quickly became the newest and fastest way to travel. The more widely used vehicles became, the more they began to affect the daily lives of Americans. The suburbs were becoming popular, making neighborhoods more spread out and less congested, and further away from grocery stores. This meant that people, mostly women, would now have to commute to access the things they needed for their family. This made for a more mobile society. The role of women in society was also affected by the automobile. In the 1920s, a car wasn’t needed for a housewife living in the city due to easy access and convenience, because everything was within walking distance. In contrast, by 60s, cars became a necessity for a housewife in the suburbs for her to go shopping and pick up the kids from school. Growing suburbs meant that women needed a reliable and fast way to get around. Vehicles had expanded the boundaries of women. They were no longer just limited to the house. They could escape their usual jobs of tending to and taking care of the home, and immerse themselves into the “cultural scene” (Hess 9). This was extremely important because now, women could go out for more competitive jobs that otherwise, were only reserved for men, freeing them of their domestic roles.
The automotive industry has helped the economy by creating millions of jobs, such as manufacturing, sales, mechanics, technicians, auto-insurance, engineering, car rental services, tire techs, truck drivers, towing service, valet, inspectors, and much more. Without cars, millions of people across the globe would be without work. The invention of Uber and Lyft has not only made ride-sharing easily accessible at the touch of a button but has also helped with employment. For most drivers, this is just an extra way to pocket more cash or a temporary full-time job for some. Due to the wear and tear of their vehicles, and unmatched wages, so far it is primarily the consumer who has benefitted from the rideshare phenomenon (Forbes). At this day and age, it is almost impossible to come across someone who hasn’t used these services. With their rising popularity, the taxi industry has suffered dramatically. When comparing costs, it’s evident that they are much cheaper than taxis, except in New York, where this trend is the exact opposite. Due to this competition, many cities, such as Austin, have banned Uber and Lyft. More importantly, there is a troubling amount of sexual assault reports primarily by Uber drivers. This is because, before Lyft, Uber did not require their drivers to complete background checks. This has changed over time but continues to be a problem. Nonetheless, many claims that there are social as well as financial benefits to ride-sharing, such as splitting the fare with friends, and not having to travel alone to a party, or anywhere else. The lower costs make rides available to more people, including the young, elderly and disabled.
While they have several perks, there are also adverse effects brought on by the invention of automobiles. As more people gained access to vehicles, this not only increased the amount of traffic in cities but raised a high risk of traffic-related accidents. Cars also emit greenhouse gases such as carbon monoxide, which contribute to global warming, thus, causing air pollution. Some of the pollutants emitted from cars can also disrupt and harm the reproductive, respiratory, immune, and neurological systems of animals. On top of that, the lead from the lead-burning fuel can reduce vital enzymes in the human body, as well as damages the membranes of red blood cells, and affects cell metabolism by shortening individual cell lifespan, which can cause Anemia (online-sciences.com).
The implementation of vehicles also challenged old-fashioned family beliefs and unity. People became more independent, granting individual family members the freedom and ability to act upon their desires as they please, rather than having to consult the whole family. As people began to spend more time on the road than in their own homes, the fast food industry and its use of the drive-thru also became more frequent. Thus, changing the way families ate. Back then, families would eat their home-cooked meals together at the dinner table. Now, this still practiced by several people across the nation, but it is also not uncommon for individual members of the household to stop at a McDonald’s or Whataburger on their way home from work or school and eat by themselves. Along with drive through’s, more and more restaurants are offering delivery services such as UberEats, Postmates, DoorDash, GrubHub, Eat24, Seamless, and Tapingo, which allow people to still enjoy their favorite fast food, but without the hassle of having to leave their house. This is pretty much Uber and Lyft, but for food. Even grocery stores have adapted to the times. You can go to Walmart or Target, do your grocery shopping, and never set foot out of your car. The launching of drive-up services has expanded nation-wide at both stores. All you have to do is merely order your desired items on their apps, and when you arrive at the store, a team member will bring your items out to you. This kind of service has become extremely popular because it saves people who are in a hurry or moms with young kids sleeping in the car, the hassle of actually going inside, which is otherwise rather time-consuming. Corporations have used cars to make their consumers lives more convenient, but it has also made a vast majority of Americans rather lazy, which could also be an unintended consequence of the use of automobiles.
During the 60s, car engineers focused on coming up with ways and ideas that would make the car more efficient. The most significant update added to the options of cars was the inclusion of air-conditioning. This now made it possible for people to spend hours in their cars on hot days and not have to worry about the heat. The temperature of the car could now be altered with just the touch of a button, making it extraordinarily innovative and convenient for drivers and passengers. This began the trend of manufacturers focused on transforming the automobile into something that would make the people feel more comfortable. Vehicles became even more popular when they were more comfortable, and fit your traveling needs. We’ve seen the implementation of entertainment features such as TVs and DVD players, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and hands-free calling make riding in a car far less tedious, and more enjoyable.
As cars become more advanced, safety precautions must advance as well. For example, laws were passed that forbid people from not wearing a seat-belt. Also, innovations such as the airbag and in-car sensors protect not only the passengers inside the vehicle but also anything or anyone that may be near it. These inventions have become a high demand by our current car-buying market because parents want safe vehicles to transport their children in. Several other new safety features in newer models include a Rear View Camera, Automatic Emergency Braking, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning/ Lane Keep. These changes stemmed once automobile manufacturers began to realize that if they wanted people to buy their cars, they would have to find new innovative ways of protecting their buyers from the dangers of the road. Coming up with new safety features is vital for them to stay ahead and in favor of the industry.
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Also during the 60s, people began to take more pride in their vehicles more than ever before. This was the beginning of cars being used as toys, and a means to show off, and not just a means of transportation. They’d now become a way of socialization. With popular entertainment outlets such as drive-in movies, people were now able to enjoy a film within the comfort of their vehicle, or just gather a bunch of friends up and go on a joy ride in the evenings. Low gases prices made it easy for people to drive around for a long duration of time. This began the rise car enthusiasm, which would get popular every year, continuing to modern day.
We can see this through things such as car shows, and races. Today, there are thousands of shows put on each year for car junkies to show off their prized possessions. As a kid, my absolute favorite part of the State Fair of Texas was going to the car show. That excited me way more than standing in line for hours to ride a roller coaster. I don’t know exactly why, but something about a humongous ballroom filled hundreds of vehicles of all makes and models just blew my mind away. There was something about being ten years old and getting to sit inside the driver’s seat of a brand new car, with excellent leather seats, and shiny dashboard and radio with more buttons and options than I knew how to count. For someone who wasn’t even of driving age, I’d had this fascination for cars, and the way they looked, and all of the cool things they could do. Just like every other person in the world, I’ve always looked at a car as a symbol of status. Granted any average person can have a car, but not just anyone has multiple. The wealthy, and mainly, celebrities will post pictures on Instagram of their flashy sets of wheels, which cost more than the average American makes in a year. Having two cars in a family is typically considered to be a privileged thing, so the more cars you own, odds are the more privileged and wealthy you are.
Along with status, automobiles signify of personal growth and development. In America when a person turns sixteen, they will most likely obtain their driver’s license, which will allow them to legally drive a car. This is one of the most pivotal points in a person’s life. Teens especially look forward to this new milestone because it is an opportunity for more freedom. They can now go to school, work or hang out with friends without having to have their parents chauffeur them. With this new freedom, also come great responsibilities, such as driving safe by following the rules of the road, putting gas, and maintaining the vehicle. Many people are killed every year because of negligent teenage drivers that prove they aren’t responsible enough to have a license. In response, the government has put more restrictions and limitations on the laws regarding driving and licenses. Owning an automobile and getting a license has now become a rite of passage for teenagers, instead of a privilege, which is something that most young Americans take for granted.
The automobile has changed our world in more ways than we often realize. It must adapt to the demands of the people, and continue to advance with the help of technology. They’ve transformed from being just a way of getting around, to a means of life. Over time cars are getting faster, more luxurious, more efficient, and more eco-friendly. The automotive industry has opened a surplus of doors for innovations, jobs, and societal traditions. Automobiles continue to be the primary source of transportation for everyone across the globe. Our society would genuinely not be the same without them, and their impacts spread across every aspect of our daily life.
- Cromer, George C., and Orville C. Cromer. “Automobile.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 18 Jan. 2018, www.britannica.com/technology/automobile/History-of-the-automobile.
- Elliot, Sam. “The Roaring 1920’s: The Effects of the Automobile on American Life.” Associated Content 6 December 2006 1-2. <http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/94668/the_roaring_1920s_the_effects_of_the.html>.
- Goldstein, Michael. “Uber And Lyft: The Cost And Benefits Of Disruption.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 9 May 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/michaelgoldstein/2018/05/09/uber-and-lyft-the-cost-and-benefits-of-disruption/#9b0946fdfcbe.
- Hess, Kenneth. “The Growth of Automotive Transportation.” 9 June 1996. <http://www.klhess.com/car_essy.html>.
- Lyon, Peter. “The Top 7 Car Safety Features You Cannot Do Without.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 1 June 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/peterlyon/2018/05/31/the-top-7-car-safety-features-you-cannot-do-without/#22c10f65fc09.
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