|The long and winding road must have been an uphill climb in the days before automobiles. Leonardo da Vinci played with the concept of transport vehicles in the 15th century, but horse drawn carriages and old, reliable walking remained the most efficient means of transportation. Thankfully, in the late 1700's, inventors concluded, there has to be a better way. For well over two hundred years and counting, the art of transportation has been evolving. With a multitude of patents, inventors, mechanics, and researchers to thank, the modern day, fuel-injected, safety efficient automobile is light years away from the heavy, perilous steam engine powered vehicle of the early days.
There isn't one clear cut inventor to single handedly credit with the invention of the automobile, although there is a wealth of opinions on why certain inventors should receive that credit. Contributions from Scotland"s Robert Anderson, France's Nicholas Cugnot, Germany's Karl Freidrich Benz, and Charles Duryea from the United States helped mold the first automobiles to provide genuine transportation.
Once the concept of automotive transportation had been realized, the next effort went into ways to produce those vehicles. These were the days long before standardized parts, so mass tooling was an issue. Individual parts needed to be of consistent size and material to make the production process more efficient. Skilled labor was the next biggest challenge to enabling every home the opportunity to own an automobile. Henry Ford's vision to build "cars for the great multitude" helped ignite a flood of almost 500 automotive manufacturers into the U.S. market, while Mercedes and Oldsmobile helped fuel the fire worldwide.
Mass producing one of the world's most historical advancements was no small task. The Mercedes folks needed seventeen hundred workers to produce one thousand cars per year. Henry Ford's introduction of the first assembly line in 1913 revolutionized the business of producing cars. Major advancements in machinery and technology made the process of building cars open to the multitude of new automotive manufacturers; however, in 1927, Ford was the winner with fifteen million units manufactured.
Once the automobile had been designed, established, and mass produced, the focus shifted to how to make the most profit from it. Besides the evolution from steam to electricity to gas powered engines and the introduction of the first automatic transmission, advancements to the actual performance of the car weren't nearly as dramatic. In fact, cars could only be driven in the summer time because antifreeze had yet to be developed. By contrast, the vast landscape of the United States transformed the desire for automotive transportation into the need for automotive transportation.
Automobiles made it possible for school systems to improve, health systems to improve, and lifestyle standards to improve, simply by connecting the city to the rural areas and the United States as a whole. The ability to transport building materials, as well as people, helped build communities and expand cultures.
By the 1900?s the United States had long established a tradition of manufacturing success. For this reason it was logical that the production of cars in America would result in larger volume at lower prices than in Europe. Of the 485,000 automobiles produced in 1913, the United States produced 606,000 of them. As a result, the market for domestic versus import cars was clearly established. Imported vehicles obviously cost more to purchase, but also cost more to manufacture. In 1912, the Model T sold for approximately $600, which was less than the average wage annually in the United States. The introduction of the Mercedes Grosser undoubtedly defined the distinction between luxury automobiles and economy automobiles. This distinction during the economically-trying war eras further developed the class system, which to this day is still somewhat defined by the type of vehicle a person owns. The Mercedes focus shifted from merely providing transportation to providing transportation in the most luxurious way possible. Luxury or economy the United States was declared "auto dependent" in the 1980's because almost every household owned one, if not two vehicles.
The evolution of the automobile industry is a truly fascinating one that has yet to reach its final chapter. Underneath the research programs focused on designing less environmentally harmful vehicles and the business programs focused on producing the least expensive vehicles possible, the simple luxury of transportation is almost lost. In the end, the opportunity to travel the long and winding road in comfort is truly a gift.
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