Originally a bicycle-like contraption, the modern automobile evolved into a highly sophisticated technical system. Its invention and development are rooted in several hundred years of scientific research.
The internal combustion engine was developed by Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens in the late 1600s. The first modern motorcycle was produced in Germany by Hildebrand & Wolfmuller in 1894. A similar machine was invented by Sylvester Howard Roper in 1867.
The first production motorcycle in the United States was manufactured by Charles Metz in Waltham, Massachusetts, in 1898. The automobile industry became a major force for change in twentieth-century America.
By the mid-1920s, the automobile industry had become the backbone of a new consumer goods-oriented society. It was the largest consumer of industrial products and became the chief customer of the steel industry.
The automobile industry made automobiles affordable to middle-class families. The industry also helped bring better schools and medical care to rural America.
In the 1920s, the automobile industry surpassed Europe in gasoline-powered automobile production. By the mid-1950s, one-quarter of the world’s passenger cars were manufactured in the United States.
In the United States, the automobile industry provided one out of every six jobs in 1982. The Interstate Highway Act of 1956 inaugurated the largest public works program in history. The industry also developed a manufacturing tradition that reduced the cost of automobiles.
The automobile industry has been facilitated by new discoveries, air pollution control legislation and competition among manufacturers around the world. The industry is also a major source of employment for research and development engineers.