During the twentieth century, the automobile became a key force in the evolution of American society. It brought urban amenities to rural America, provided better schools for rural children, and spurred the growth of tourism-related industries. At the same time, it helped increase the per capita income of the United States.
During the First World War, automobiles played a critical role in the production of the United States’ military needs. The automobile industry became a crucial consumer of many industrial products, including steel, and was the lifeblood of the petroleum industry. It also boosted the tourism industry, bringing better medical care to rural areas.
During the late nineteenth century, automobiles began to be perfected in France, where they were based on bicycle-like contraptions. In 1867, bicycle builder Sylvester Howard Roper built a similar machine. The French company Neckarsulmer Motorrad manufactured a car using a Swiss Zedel single-cylinder AIV motor. It also used a crude carburetor. The design was considered a forerunner of the modern automobile.
In 1886, Karl Benz received a patent for a gas-fueled car. He later built a two-wheeled vehicle with his engine. His company became the world’s largest automobile manufacturer by 1900.
After World War II, the automobile industry soared in Europe and Japan. It also became a global industry. The automobile became a primary mode of family transportation. It also stimulated outdoor recreation and tourism.
The United States dominated the automotive industry in the first half of the twentieth century, and it became the largest consumer of many industrial products. At the same time, its manufacturing tradition helped keep automobile prices affordable for middle-class families. The auto industry was also able to create new designs and technologies at a rapid pace. In the 1920s, it became the chief customer of the steel industry.
During the 1920s, manufacturers began using mass production techniques. The result was a higher volume of sales for manufacturers, which helped them become more competitive. But at the same time, the industry became saturated. Technological stagnation was also a result of the market’s saturation. In the mid-1960s, cars had an average of 24 defects per unit, with many of the problems being safety-related. The cars were also known for their questionable aesthetics.
As the automobile industry became more competitive, manufacturers were able to split the market into smaller segments. In the late 1920s, Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler became the “Big Three” automakers. They accounted for about 80 percent of the industry’s output. They also outpaced their competitors in reconciling a state-of-the-art design with a moderate price. However, after 1936, Ford fell behind Chrysler in the industry’s rankings.
As a result of increased competition and mass production, the automobile industry began to be dominated by Americans. By the end of the twentieth century, automobiles were the main source of transportation for one in every six jobs in the United States. During the mid-1920s, the automobile industry ranked first in the value of its product.