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  • Leopold Huber

The History of Cars and Motor Vehicles

In our modern era, cars are nearly ubiquitous. Most freight is transported by road and a large percentage of households own at least one motor vehicle. In this article, I will explore the history and development of cars and their impact on human history. 


First beginnings and developments 

The first successful, drivable prototype of the modern car was developed by Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot in 1769 and was named fardier à vapeur (steam dray). It had three wheels and was powered by an early, two piston steam engine. The device (and another copy) was used to transport artillery but was quickly decommissioned as it was proven to be unreliable. More steam-powered vehicles were devised in France and neighboring countries, but none found major use in public or industrial life. 


Industrial Era and early growth 

As the Industrial revolution began to take root in the British Empire, the center of innovation regarding powered vehicles moved across the channel and into the UK. For the first half of the 19th century, there was a boom in innovation and production of motor vehicles. They began having hand brakes, suspension, better steering, multiple gears and some started using oil as fuel. The cars were faster, cheaper and more reliable and comfortable.  

But the 1865 Locomotive Act, passed by the British parliament, imposed restrictions on travel by car, due to complaints by citizens. This required many self-propelled vehicles on public roads to be preceded by a man on foot waving a red flag and blowing a horn to warn passers-

by. This effectively crippled the British (and by extension the global) motor industry and many professionals such as mechanics and engineers left for other, similar fields, such as rail or ship transportation. Nevertheless, progress in motor cars carried on, if significantly slower than before. 

The only widespread use of cars in the second half of the 19th century was as tractors in agriculture. These transported tools, personnel and crops. 


Early 20th century and Contemporary era 

In the late 1890s and early 1900s, enthusiasm and development increased around motor vehicles. In the US and Western Europe, light, fast, two-person cars were developed and sold en masse. The fastest among them could get up to 200km (about 124.27 mi) per hour.  

The development of the assembly line, first created by Henry Ford, quickly decreased the production time of an individual vehicle. Now it took only 15 minutes for a car to be assembled and due to Fords strict factory management, the risk of industry fell drastically. The addition of high employee wages and more benefits increased productivity and personnel retention. This caused a boom in sales of Fords primary car, the model-T. Due to this innovation, the sector rose. 

By the late 1930s, cars were common worldwide. They were fully enclosed, reliable, fast and contained many luxuries, such as radios, windshield wipers and headlights. Most cars were also powered by oil and its derivates, as it was cheaper and easier to transport than other options.  

Cars continued to change in style and engineering throughout the 20th century but retained the same premises as their earlier versions. 

With the increasing awareness on climate change, increasing oil prices and the growth of environmentalism many people are switching to electric cars, leaving many to believe that they are the future of motor vehicles

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