A automobile, or motor vehicle, is a four-wheeled transportation vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine. It may be fueled by petroleum (gasoline) or electricity stored in batteries. It is designed for travel on roads and can carry from one to eight passengers. Almost all modern cars use gasoline or another liquid fuel to drive their engines, although some electric-powered vehicles can operate as well.
Perhaps no invention shaped twentieth-century life more than the automobile. It was a key force for change as American society became increasingly consumer goods-oriented, and it helped create a new industry that supported one out of six jobs in the country. It also prompted government regulation of safety, pollution, energy consumption, and licensing requirements.
The automobile was first invented in the late 1800s and perfected toward the end of that century by engineers such as Gottlieb Daimler, Karl Benz, and Nicolaus Otto. Ransom E. Olds and others were soon producing one-cylinder, three-horsepower, tiller-steered machines that looked and acted very much like horse-drawn carriages.
It was Henry Ford, however, who revolutionized the automobile with his manufacturing techniques, making it possible to produce the Model T runabout at a price low enough for middle class families to afford. In addition to its social and economic effects, the automobile changed lifestyles and expanded opportunities for travel. City dwellers could rediscover pristine landscapes, and suburbanites found that shopping trips to town were within reach. Driving freedom encouraged family vacations and allowed teens a portable place for romance.