A Brief History of Automobile – Evolution of Cars Through the Decades

May 20, 2019Fun Facts and Lists
Eva Johnson

Digital nomad born in New York but currently living online, Eva knows everything there is to know about packing and moving.

The desire to travel and reach the distants parts has always followed mankind. The evolution of cars is an example of how this wish, coupled with man’s crave for innovation and scientific exploration, changed the way we live beyond recognition. We present to you a short history of the automobile and all its glorious and not so glorious moments.

From the beginning of time humans wanted to connect somehow. Horses and horse-drawn wagons dominated the world of road transport for quite a while until railroads took the helm. Prototypes of cars, as we know them today, began emerging in the late 18th century, but it wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century that this mode of transportation left all others in the dust. Managing to survive the test of time, it’s still alive and kicking in our age, and doesn’t seem to plan on leaving in near future. Let’s see what was this journey like.

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The Beginnings of the History of Cars

Europe was the hub of activity in this field long way before TV shows about cars were a thing and the American automotive industry gained the upper hand. The grandfather of the modern car was actually invented by the French Army Captain Nicolas Cugnot as early as 1769. It was steam-powered and operated using a boiler that created steam, but had to be relit quite often. It was designed for the purpose of the army, and had a low speed and numerous other shortcomings. Ten years later, the vehicle was remodeled in England, a carriage was added and the boiler relocated. Still, more innovations were to come.

Ancestors of the Modern Car

Long before the questions such as how to change a flat tire or how to clean seat belts existed, some men dreamed of a machine that could help people traverse the distances. The French hydrogen-powered internal combustion engine in 1807 was the first grand breakthrough towards a vehicle that would be self-propelled and efficient. And the invention was further improved when the first gas engine was made in France in 1860. It was this very engine that would later give life to the modern car.

four wheeler on the street
It took inventors a long time to come up with a car that was good in all aspects

The Invention of the First Car

The modern auto was born when the famous German engineers Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz unveiled their two vehicles in 1886. Benz created the first commercial car, called Motorwagen, that used the above mentioned Lenoir engine and had three wheels, one cylinder and a handle in the place of the steering wheel. It might be said that this model answers the question what was the very first car since the Motorwagen was hailed as the first commercial vehicle able to cross long distances.

The European enthusiasm was visible in the emergence of car races and best car shows that were slowly beginning to take place all over the Western part of the continent. But, due to the complex manufacturing it required, the car remained a status symbol and a commodity of the wealthy.

An old photograph of cars on the street
Streets were slowly starting to brim with cars

The US Automotive Industry Brings About a Fundamental Shift

The excitement for the novel mode of transport didn’t go amiss on this side of the Atlantic either. Engineers from all over the country perfected their models. However, it was Henry Ford, America’s magnate and symbol, who gave rise to the mass production of cars. Ford’s factories introduced assembly lines that replaced human labor and produced larger amounts of vehicles at lower costs. Ford Motor Company launched the iconic Model T in 1908 and it became popular in a flash. Affordable and more practical than its predecessors, with some enticing features such as headlights, horns, and pedal controls, Model T won the heart of the middle class. Included in lists of best cars for women and best cars for families, as well as best cars for city driving, it remained America’s favorite for quite some time.

How the New Vehicle Transformed the US?

This invention generated huge attention in the States and the whole way of life was changed. First off, Ford’s success helped the boom of the automotive industry which became the nation’s core source of employment and the backbone of the economy. It gave impetus to other industries too as steel, gas, and other resources were needed to fuel the progress. Besides, it was at this time that the US built the best paid highway network in the world as more and more famous routes in the USA saw the light of day.

Apart from the economy, the lives of people were changed for good. The former railroad adjacent cities began to diminish since the country was no longer dependent on trains. Mass tourism was on the rise as people could vacation, make trips, commute to work, or even transport cars from state to state. But, not everything was rainbows and butterflies as the 1920s saw a lot of road rage, accidents, and driving stress that followed. Still, the machines survived the challenges and continued to shape the nation’s history. Take a look at the following video if you’d like to learn more about this topic.

YouTube video

Car Evolution After Ford

After Ford’s cutting-edge technology was introduced, inventions kept springing up. In the 1920s, luxurious cars were being made and some of the most expensive cars in the world were on the market. Electric ignition starters were added to vehicles, and things that would make the ride more comfortable were shyly but securely getting into the spotlight. The first of such inventions was the cigarette lighter, added in 1921. Driving became a common sight on the streets of major US cities and driving epitomized the culture of the Roaring Twenties all until another war shaked things up again.

How the Second World War Influenced the Course of Vehicle Making?

The Second World War shattered the ideals of many, but it saw the rise and advance in vehicle production. People and armies realised how significant cars are to the war effort back in the time of the Great War. Yet, the technology was much more ahead in the 1940s as inventors competed to find the cheapest way to ship a car to distant battlefields and come up with mobile off-terrain machines that would assist in war operations. The latter made the advance of Jeep possible. And in the words of general Eisenhower, one of the major advantages of the US army was the ability to quickly respond to technological challenges such as these.

Apart from bringing the best cars for off-road driving into the spotlight, the war made it possible for autos to go through a major transformation. Though most countries stopped producing for the mass market in the war days, all these advances made their way into the consumer autos and changed the face of the industry for good once the combat was over.

What Changes and Tools Stem from This Time?

Apart from learning how to move a car to another state or even continent, other major advances in manufacturing occurred as well. The first changes came in the field of car safety. Contradictory though it may sound for a time when cars were adorned with guns, having a soldier killed was a huge blow to each military leader. Thus, safety rims were introduced on wheels that protected the machine from side impacts.

Secondly, the USA and the Allies found it increasingly difficult to produce rubber because the Axis powers controlled the rubber-producing countries and that led to the dilemma of how to change the manufacturing of wheels. The US chemist Waldo Semon solved the problem by discovering the synthetic rubber that was both cheaper and easier to produce than the former version. This didn’t only boost American rubber production, but it also marked a permanent shift in rubber making. Finally, engine technology was also elevated and liquid cooling methods existent in modern automobiles were invented at this time. This all led to diminishing the driving anxiety of soldiers, and afterwards the consumers.

Car at a washing station
The Model T changed the face of America

The Second Half of the Twentieth Century Sees the Mass Advent of Autos

Not only because US soldiers wanted to purchase cars they became attached to during the period of trauma and uncertainty, but also due to the fact that the industry realised its boundless power, the postwar US auto production was unstoppable. In 1950 this sector of the US economy produced 36% of the world’s GNP alone and Detroit, where Ford, General Motors and Chrysler were headquartered, was the greatest manufacturing city in the world. America produced three quarters of all automobiles on the globe and there was a surge in demand of popular import cars from the States on all continents.

This meant that constant innovation had to be implemented to keep companies in the game. Some of the countless elements that were added include keys, power steering, the first air conditioning, cruise control, seat belts, anti lock brakes, windshield, and stereos. The great thing about four-wheelers is that they were open to advances from other fields, so their starry journey never came to a halt. And learning how to drive a car for beginners was getting easier and easier due to the desire of the industry to make machines as user-friendly as possible.

How the Vehicle Still Reinvents Itself?

The quantum leap in computer manufacturing that has been lasting from the 1970s up to the present day had an impact on four-wheelers too. If you were wondering when did cars get computers, the answer is in the 1970s. But, back then these were only reserved for high performance vehicles. Still, by the end of the 1990s all cars got computers installed that controlled all the other systems. This was a real game changer since it led to onboard diagnostics, electromagnetic parking sensors, hands-free bluetooth, GPS SAT NAV, Wi-Fi hotspots, driver assist features, even automatic parking options. Driving in New York City, or other towns also became part of the virtual realm and debates about best racing games began to be more and more frequent.

And it’s nowhere near the end, whatever side of the classic cars vs modern cars clash you’re on. Some of the innovations that are announced are self-driving cars, gesture controlled displays, and finger-prints instead of keys. Besides, with gas being one of the major pollutants, new sources of fuel are also on the rise. And the electric cars popular before the 1930s are now again a hot topic.

car interior
New features are added daily

How Did Cars Change the World?

So, it’s been a long ride from the steam powered vehicle to today’s smart car that comes in all shapes and sizes. The automobile had an impact not only on the US society but on life everywhere. People no longer needed to live close to their workplaces, schools, churches or other social institutions. The urban sprawl and the suburbia gained momentum on one hand and mass travel on the other. But if you look at the cause in more depth, you’ll see how these facilitated all aspects of life and gave another perspective to what humans can. Once only a dream, better and better cars are now reality, and it seems as if we broke through the glass ceiling. Yet, all comes with a cost and in the future we’re to redefine our vision if we want to keep the dream alive.

A family inside the red vehicle after terminal to terminal car shipping
Cars have given a major impetus for change of lifestyles

Do You Need Car Shipping Services?

We gave you a gist of science and history, and unraveled a bit of the mystery of car evolution. But what if you just got yourself one of those precious vehicles? It probably has to be shipped to you. And if you’re looking for the best services for shipping a car cross country, getting a reliable auto transport company is crucial. Each professional car shipping company offers both open trailer auto transport and the enclosed trailer option. If you’re doubtful about which of these suits your needs better, you should look up those shipping near you that are reliable and have stellar reviews. Every reputable company has agents that can give you car shipping advice as well as tips on how to prepare a car for shipping. And don’t worry – the car shipping industry never stopped improving its domain, either.

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