When talking about the most influential inventions of the 20th century in America, the automobile immediately comes to mind. No other invention has had such a profound impact on almost every aspect of our society, and the daily lives of individuals. When one thinks of their daily life, they would be hard pressed to imagine a day going by without the use of an automobile. The first automobile produced for the masses in the U. S. was the three-horsepower, curved-dash Oldsmobile; 425 of them were sold in 1901 and 5,000 in 1904.
With this success, other companies quickly followed producing automobiles. One of these was the Ford Motor Company. The company produced 1,700 cars during its first full year of business. Henry Ford produced the Model T to be an economical car for the average American. By 1920 Ford sold over a million cars. By 1924 over half of American families had automobiles, and there were 60 million cars on the road (Drake 259). In 2006 there were 500 million cars on the road (BTS). The explosive growth in popularity of the automobile in the course of the 20th century has had a dramatic impact on society.
It has affected the infrastructure of cities by the creation of massive systems of roadways, the highway system, and caused city streets to be cleaner, and provided for safer communities due to police, firefighters, and ambulances use of automobiles. It has affected business by making them accessible to more people from greater distances, and tourism by allowing people to freely travel moderate distances. It also allowed the formation of suburbs, and the ability of cities to grow out instead of up.
The advent of the automobile has led to dramatic changes in city infrastructure in the U. S. The main form of transportation went from horse and carriage and railways, to the automobile seemingly overnight. The automobile completely replaced any other means of transportation in both efficiency and usefulness. Up until the automobile, horses were the major means of transportation within cities. Horses required a large amount of care, and were therefore kept in public facilities that were usually far from homes.
They also created a sanitary problem with the manure they left on the ground. Also, instead of makeshift systems of roads that individuals were responsible for maintaining, we have massive city, state, and federally maintained roads and highways, making it very simple to travel to almost any destination. In 1921, the United States had only 387,000 miles of surfaced road throughout the country. Over the course of the next twenty years, the United States spent $40 billion and over one million new miles of roads. (Drake 259).
This, along with the automobile becoming more accessible to Americans over the years has made it much easier to travel. Another advantage to the automobile that came very early on is the use of vehicles by emergency services, firefighters, police, and ambulatory personnel. The police were among the first to utilize the automobile. The new technology allowed them to get to crime scenes faster, preventing crimes from occurring or proceeding, and greatly reducing the ability of people to tamper with evidence (Automobile, 727).
Firefighters benefited by being able to respond much more quickly to fires. Before the automobile, horse and carriage had to be used, and the amount of water that could be carried was limited. They often used what was called a bucket brigade which is a system of a line of firefighters relaying buckets of water to throw on the fire. This system is archaic and inefficient today with our fire trucks with long range hoses and large water tanks. This created a drastically different and much safer city structure than had been in place before the automobile.
The automobile also had a great impact on tourism, business, and the formation of suburbs. The creation of good roads and dependable automobiles changed the ideas of U. S. citizens’ recreation and vacations. Before the automobile, resorts were mostly found near the coast or a railroad. If people did not live near either, then they were unlikely to be able to visit one. Once the automobile became popular, resorts sprang up that were off the beaten path. Also due to the automobile, cities grew and suburbs appeared for the first time.
The growth of suburbs has allowed people to live on the outskirts of the city and be able to work in the city by commuting. This allowed cities to grow more by spreading out rather than building upwards because people living in the suburbs could easily access the city for work or other needs. It affected businesses by allowing them to reach a greater audience due to people being able to travel further to reach them. Businesses are now strategically located along major roadways with large signs viewable from the road to attract people driving by.
Also, these businesses are much farther from the road now due to the need for large parking lots to accommodate all of the customers. The automobile has obviously created drastic changes in our society, most all of these being positive changes. It is amazing to see the vast difference caused by this single invention over the past 100 years. Looking back even just 50 years, much less 100 before the automobile gained prominence, it is easy to see the dramatic differences in every aspect of our daily lives that are directly caused by the automobile.
Cities are structured differently, people travel differently, people get to work differently, and peoples’ whole lives are different due to this single invention. While most people take the advantages of automobiles for granted in their daily lives, it is easy to see how different our society would be without them. Works Cited “Automobile. ” World Book Encyclopedia, Volume 1. 1969. 921. Bureau of Transportation Statistics Website. Accessed 2 Nov 2009. Drake, Walter. “The Rubber Industry and the Automobile. ” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 116, (Nov. 1924): 259-261.