Automobiles are motor vehicles that use an internal combustion engine to create thrust. They are used to transport people and other things, and can be powered by electricity or petroleum. The automobile has changed our world in many ways, and has become an integral part of our everyday lives. People can now travel long distances quickly, and have more freedom to explore the different areas of a city or community. It also brought new businesses, such as hotels, restaurants and entertainment. However, it has also caused harm to the environment with the production of pollution and the draining of world oil reserves. It has led to the development of laws and regulations regarding safety, such as seatbelts and highway rules. It has also caused the destruction of natural resources with its demand for land for roads and industry.

Originally, the automobile was invented by Europeans, but Americans came to dominate the industry in the 1920s. Henry Ford innovated mass production techniques, and Ford, GM and Chrysler emerged as the Big Three automakers. The cars they produced were less expensive than the high-end Mercedes model of 1901 and Ransom E Olds’ one-cylinder, three-horsepower, tiller-steered, curved dash automobile of 1904.

This allowed middle-class Americans to afford to buy and operate their own personal transportation. The auto industry became the backbone of a new consumer goods-oriented society, and a vital force for change in twentieth-century America. By the mid-1920s, it ranked first in value of production and was one of the chief consumers of steel and petroleum.

In the 1930s, automotive manufacturers shifted their efforts toward producing for the war effort. This reduced their production and innovation, and the quality of their cars deteriorated. Afterwards, the automobile industry experienced market saturation, and technological stagnation. Consumers grew to be dissatisfied with the nonfunctional styling of American made cars, and questions surfaced about their economy, safety and environmental impact. New regulatory bodies began to restrict Detroit’s profit margins with new emission and CAFE standards. This opened the automobile industry to foreign manufacturers such as Germany and Japan, which made more fuel-efficient, functionally designed cars.

The automobile also became an important symbol of social status and power in the United States. Early 20th century writers such as Booth Tarkington decried its effect on society in his novel The Magnificent Ambersons, and other authors, such as Sinclair Lewis, satirized its political influence in novels such as Free Air (1919). In addition to its economic benefits, the automobile contributed to the rise of leisure activities, including recreation and tourism. It helped people to visit their friends and family, and it allowed them to travel to work and other places that were inaccessible before the automobile. In 1916, two women, Nell Richardson and Alice Burke, used their cars to promote the women’s rights movement by traveling across the country to encourage other women to vote. They decorated their cars with “votes for women” banners and gave speeches from the road.