When we think of our fast-paced society with its short deadlines, fast food, and the need to be in two places at once, it is no wonder that Americans are constantly stressed. However, when we look at all of the technological and scientific innovations that have truly changed the American paradigm and facilitates this modern lifestyle that we covet; the automobile is one of the first on the list. Regardless of what you call it, vehicle, ride, wheels, or car, the automobile has played a huge role in the development of the society we live in today. From where we live, how we work and how we function in our day to day lives has all been influenced by the invention of the automobile. As far back as the 1700s scholars, inventors and engineers have all “tinkered” with the idea of mechanized transportation to present day (University of Colorado Boulder, 2014). The dream of automated travel is nothing new. However, had it not been invented, if we had never advanced beyond the horse and buggy, then the United States, and the world as a whole, would be a very different place. The automobile plays a significant role in the United States past and present social, economic, and philosophical aspects; that are part of the American Dream.
Travel has always been an important aspect of the human experience. Historically people migrate for food and others to seek better places to call their home. Human beings are always on the move. This has always been true. From the earliest of Bronze Age families to those families that left Europe behind to reach the New World. However, while the need and the desire to make human transport more efficient and productive, the different endeavors, individually, were not necessarily successful (University of Colorado Boulder, 2014). Electric cars did not provide enough speed or longevity. Steam powered vehicles survived through the 1920s, but steam engines were costly and may possibly explode. It was the gas powered combustion engine that won the day. Three of the most significant men to begin producing gas powered cars include Henry Ford, Carl Benz and Ransom E. Olds (Johns, 2010). In the beginning automobiles were a sign of wealth and status; it meant a great deal to be able to afford a car. However, it would not be long before the car would cease to be a commodity of the wealthy, but a necessity for all Americans across the country.
While many historians argue over who can be completely credited with the invention of the automobile, and these debates continue today, it is the impact of the automobile on American society has been immense. In many ways, people would no longer be able to function as well today without a car (Cox, 2013). Vehicles allowed people who live far from cities to travel more freely. It allowed people to work outside the home, further than ever before. It changed the way that human beings perceived travel and that is probably the most significant. People were often rather sedentary and traveling great distances is something only, generally, done out of necessity (Johns, 2010). Very often when people traveled, not everyone who began the journey would survive to see it end. However, with the development of the car, travel was more convenient and more expeditious. Making traveling from city to city and state to state far less of a chore as it had been for their ancestors. Today there are so many different vehicles to choose form on the market. Some are luxury vehicles, some are commuter cars, others are gas guzzling monstrosities, like Hummers, and at present a every major label, from Ford to Chrysler and from Chevy to Honda, has development a more environmentally conscious vehicle.
Whether you are rich or poor the invention of the automobile has changed the social paradigm of the human experience. The same way that the telephone revolutionized human communication, the automobile simplified and made travel for social reasons a reality. For example, in the 1800s and through the earliest part of the 20th century, when a loved-one was getting married or having a baby; being there would not have been an option and you may not even get news until weeks or months after the fact. Even, the telephone could not bring people, spread out by vast distance, together in the flesh. However, the automobile made that possible. We can be with loved ones, travel any distance for employment instead of moving with the jobs, and even entertainment was in the past was geared to motor vehicles (Johns, 2010). For example, drive-in movies and “car-hops,” fast food where you can eat in your car. These two activities became very popular in the 1950s and part of the 1960s.
Economics have and continue to play a huge role in the success and necessity of the motor vehicle. The automotive industry did not evolve alone into a multi-billion dollar industry. There are also, the oil companies and gasoline chains that are dependent on people owning and operating automobile. Today there are also insurance companies and hundreds of thousands of automotive mechanics and maintenance locations. All of these industries have symbiotic relationship with the motor vehicle industry (University of Colorado Boulder, 2104). Today we market automobiles to people as a day to day necessity of life, associating to the phone, television, and, today, the internet as a must have. Advertising infers that happiness can be achieved by owning the “right” car, and that you will go off-roading in the woods and see every sunset from the mountain tops. Most people do not. While driving and owning a vehicle in and of itself was a sign of wealth and prestige; today when automobiles are commonplace and range in prices and amenities, it is the ownership of the most expensive that are sign of status. For example, the average person may own a four-door, commuter sedan, like an Accord or Camry; the wealthy and powerful may drive Mercedes, BMW, or Aston Martin. Today, cars are marketed to the young and old, to all walks of life, and all economic levels. The automobile industry has, also, created an industry, either through manufacturing of parts or vehicles as a whole, which created millions of jobs since the automobiles earliest inception (Johns, 2010). Because the car exits, the insurance, sales, repairs, development, and engineering have all been supported by the development of the automobile. It is likely that the first great thinkers of the past, like Leonardo da Vinci, who imagined automated craft to the drawing table of the Ford factory, could never have imagined just how innovative and how essential such an invention would one day become (The Fédération Internationale des Véhicules Anciens, 2014).
The philosophy of America has always centered upon the idea that if you work hard, and pay “your dues,” then you could make your fortune, own a home, drive nice cars, own nice things, and eat fine food. This is all part of the American Dream that have inspired natural bon Americans and immigrants alike. However, the American Dream is not as easy to come by, especially in this day and age. We live by the idea that success is defined by what accolades we have received, the height of “promotion” that have been given, the making of a large income, and owning all sorts of expensive “toys.” The nicer the car, the more that you own, the more successful you are and, therefore, the happier you will be (University of Colorado Boulder, 2014). This sort of materialistic means of determining the value of a life is indicative, which includes expensive fast cars, is a product of a capitalist economy, where the spending and acquisitions of purchased items is essential.
Automobiles have without question changed and impacted American society, but not everyone feels that those impacts are necessarily positive. Some people feel that the dependence upon automobiles, like dependence on all technology, is unwise. People have become sedentary in their day to day lives. Many sit before a computer screen for hours at work, then the same when they get home and watch television or surf the web, and then we travel in our cars sitting, and sometimes eating in our cars. This is not necessarily the healthiest influences that automobiles have had. There are, also, many who look at the number of people who misuse and abuse the privilege of driving. After more than 30,000 people die every year from auto and auto-related accidents and worldwide that number skyrockets to 1.24 million deaths (Secken, 2013). More so, today we know that automobiles are one of the human inventions that produce the largest amount of pollutants into the air and are dependent upon gasoline and oil for its proper operation. Today we know these sources are no longer limitless, our natural resources are dwindling and the invention of the car have a great deal to do with that.
Modern scholars, researchers, and automotive companies today are already attempting to find ways to adapt their technology with “greener,” or more environmentally conscious, approaches. From hybrid cars to modern electric cars, there are low cost, high efficiency, and low emission vehicles that are thought to be ;less destructive and is less dependent of fossil fuels to allow their operation. Of course, there is an anti-technology element to modern society. In their eyes human beings should be walking, not driving or flying. If we need to get a location far away, then there are trains or buses (The Fédération Internationale des Véhicules Anciens, 2014). While mass transportation can be beneficial in some environments however, most public transportation is a bit unreliable. City buses can be late or early and make getting somewhere on time all the harder, hence why people still prefer their own form of transportation. Having a car is, has been, and will likely always represent a level of freedom. As long as you have gas in the tank then you can go anywhere you please at any time that you want. That freedom is something that Americans always take very seriously.
In the end, the automobile, be it luxury, sporty, or strictly a commuter car, has had a significant impact on American society, perhaps more than any other singular invention, prior to the internet. In fairness, that impact may not always be ideal, as many modern and environmentally conscious individuals, but over all its contributions have and continue to be of value, regardless of a few negative side-effects. The invention of the automobile changed this country’s economy, created mass factory jobs, and helped develop accessory industries, like auto repair and insurance coverage. Beyond that the car allowed more options in the way we travel, how often we interact, and allowed greater employment options for potential commuters. However, most importantly, the car became a symbol of American freedom and success, which are two things that America takes great pride in.
Cox, L. (2013, Jun 18). Who invented the car?. Live Science Magazine, 1. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/37538-who-invented-the-car.html
Johns, K. (2010, October 12). How the automobile has changed american society. Life Paths 360, 1. Retrieved from http://www.lifepaths360.com/index.php/how-the-automobile-has-changed-american-society-4844/
Seckan, B. (2013). Road safety and motor vehicle accidents: Surveying global and us data- . Journalist's Resource, 1. Retrieved from http://journalistsresource.org/studies/environment/transportation/road-safety-motor-vehicle-accidents-surveying-global-us-data
The Fédération Internationale des Véhicules Anciens. (2014). The fiva and the impact of personal transportation on society. Retrieved from http://www.fiva.org/site/en/ct-menu-item-105/282-the-fiva-and-the-impact-of-personal-transportation-on-society