The Impact of the Automobile on the United States
The automobile has had a profound impact on the United States. It has brought us
superhighways, paved bridges, motels, vacations, suburbia, and the economic growth
which accompanied them. Today, the automotive industry and nearly one million related
industries employ about twenty percent of all American workers. The US produces more
automobiles than every other nation combined. This product has become a symbol of the
American way of life. The US is sometimes referred to as “a nation on wheels.”
Considering these facts, one must wonder what the United States was like before the
revolutionary innovation of the automobile.
The first automobile was invented by a French artillery officer, Nicholas Joseph
Cugnot. His self-propelled vehicle was powered by steam. Other models of
steam-powered automobiles were created by different innovators, but these models were
eventually made obsolete by the internal-combustion powered car invented by Jean Joseph
Etienne Lenior. This technology reached the United States when Charles and Frank
Duryea made the first successful American gasoline automobile. Ransom Eli Olds had the
earliest assembly line for automobiles and began mass production. Later, Henry Ford’s
Model T dominated the car industry and remained the most popular automobile for nearly
In the early days of the automobile, there was not a real automotive industry. Only
a few hundred cars were made in the early years of automobile manufacturing. They were
very seldom seen and only could be afforded by the wealthy. The car was such an
unfamiliar spectacle, it was sometimes featured in circuses. Eventually, the car began to
increase in popularity.
During the 1920s, the US economy was on the rise and one of the main reasons
was the automobile. Assembly lines were becoming more efficient, thus, admitting cars to
be made more cheaply and allowing prices of cars to drop. From 1909 to 1925, the price
of a Ford Model T dropped from $950 to $290. This allowed more people to be able to
afford them. Millions were sold. The automobile, once a rare luxury, was becoming a
part of American life. It had a ripple effect on US industries. With the increase in
automobiles, came an increase in related products. Large quantities of glass, rubber and
steel were needed to produce the multitude of automobiles in demand by the public, and
petroleum was needed to fuel them. Industries which made these products flourished.
Also, the construction industry experienced a boom and new techniques of construction
were invented. Roads and highways were built to accommodate the increasing traffic.
Suburbs grew rapidly. Gas stations, motels, restaurants and other places were built to
provide for those traveling by automobile.1
Big business also greatly benefited from the automobile’s ability to make some
business techniques simpler. Corporations could now...