Automobiles are self-propelled vehicles used for transporting people and things. They have four wheels and an internal combustion engine fueled most often by gasoline (petroleum). Historically, the word car has also been applied to other powered vehicles such as bicycles and railcars. The automobile has become one of the most widely used modern technologies.
There are many different types of automobiles, each designed for a specific purpose and powered by a particular fuel. Some of the most common are passenger cars, which are designed to carry people from place to place; utility vehicles such as trucks and vans, which are built for hauling and moving heavy loads; and construction and mining vehicles, which are specialized vehicles designed to work in construction and mining projects. There are also special cars for various uses, such as police vehicles, fire engines, ambulances and other emergency services, and a variety of recreational vehicles such as motorcycles and boats.
The origins of the automobile can be traced back several centuries. The first automobiles were steam powered. In the 17th century, a Frenchman named Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot created a small steam-powered vehicle that was able to travel both on land and in water, thanks to a pair of large paddle wheels that it mounted on the bow. Later, British inventor Oliver Evans developed a steam-powered carriage that could travel both on wheels and via a paddle wheel in the water.
Throughout the 19th century, other inventors tried to develop the automobile as we know it today. Some, such as Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler, focused on developing the internal combustion engine. Others, such as Robert Anderson of Scotland, worked on electric automobiles. These vehicles, however, were slow and required frequent stops to recharge their batteries.
It was not until the early 1900s that the gasoline-powered automobile became the dominant form of motor car. As demand for automobiles increased, entrepreneurs developed a means of industrial production to meet this need. Ransome Eli Olds is credited with the concept of the assembly line, while others, such as John Mohler Studebaker, Walter Chrysler and Henry Ford, established their names in automobile history.
As the automobile developed into a part of everyday life, it began to spark debate and controversy. There were those who loved them and felt they were a boon to society, and there were those who hated them and foresaw all sorts of disasters. Regardless of the views, the fact was that automobiles were here to stay. With the passage of time, automobiles grew more powerful and faster. Narrow roads with no shoulders or banked curves simply could not accommodate speed runs, and collisions occurred at an alarming rate.