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The early roots of the modern automobile can be traced back to 1769 when the first self-propelled road vehicle was invented by Nicolas Joseph Cugnot of France. Later, in 1823, English engineer Samuel Brown invented a type of internal combustion engine that successfully powered a vehicle. In 1879, George Selden, an American lawyer, patented a "road locomotive" with "non-animal traction", although he never went on to actually invent such a machine. However, his patent effectively blocked inventors from later making the same claim, and they were forced to patent one piece of the automobile at a time. This overarching claim allowed Selden to receive royalties for all American-built vehicles until Henry Ford took him to court and had the patent declared worthless.
By 1900, automobile development was led by German engineering and the French company De Dion and Bouton, who was turning out more than 50 makes of cars with single-cylinder gas engines. Early drivers relied on dangerous oil lamps or acetylene gas lamps for night driving, but in 1908, a British company introduced the first complete electrical system including headlights, sidelights, and taillights.
The turn of the century in America brought automobiles that were primarily powered by steam or electricity; Ransom Olds' Curved Dash was one of the first single-cylinder gas-powered automobiles to debut in the USA. In 1903, Cadillac began selling automobiles with fully interchangeable parts, and in 1908 the now-famous Model-T Ford debuted. Henry Ford constructed a conveyor belt in 1913 to ease mass production and the millionth Model-T Ford was produced just two years later!
Post World War II, the development of the automobile accelerated. Air conditioning was first used in 1939, and power-steering and automatic gear-changing technologies provided increased convenience for drivers. 1949 saw the production of more efficient fuels, and aluminum alloys in the 1950s reduced engine weight and increased durability. Eventually, environmental concerns prompted General Motors to develop a catalytic converter that treated emissions. The first seat belt was introduced by Volvo in 1963, and later became standard. Airbags were developed in the 1970s and became standard in certain makes and models as early as 1981. Computerized control systems started to take over and became increasingly advanced. Early in the 21st century, pollution and economic concerns regarding gasoline prices prompted many car manufacturers to begin shifting focus toward the development of hybrid vehicles and electric cars.
The automobile is an invention that most of us use every day to commute to work, school, the grocery store, or almost anywhere we need to go. No matter how many evolutions the automobile sees in our time, it is truly an invention that is indispensable in our modern society.
Automobile-related organizations include the Global Automakers Association, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the National Automobile Dealer Association, and the American Automobile Association, as well as other, more specialized or localized, automotive organizations.
The following links include page titles and summaries for reference articles and captioned images about automobiles and automotive themes.
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