The invention of the automobile perhaps, most importantly, revolutionized the efficiency of personal transportation. Traditionally, people relied on a much simpler and slower way to travel from one place to another. Before the invention of the internal combustion engine, wagons and carriages were motivated by muscle; either that of a horse or a man. The development of new technologies during the industrial revolution allows for a significant advancement in the betterment of the automobile. The car that we are familiar today is an evolution of the wagons and carriages from the pre-industrial era. It is not until the industrial revolution did significant changes appear for the improvement of automobile. A historical framework of the automobile development will have to include the pre-industrial era following to the industrial era and also its evolution in the post-industrial era.
The pre-industrial era signifies a time period prior to the beginning of the industrial revolution; the pre-17th century. The concept of having a self-propelled vehicle has been speculated to date back as early the 13th and 15th century from the ideas of Roger Bacon and Leonardo da Vinci respectively (Flink, 1990). During the 17th century most personal transportation form still involves a considerable amount of labour. Personal transportation during this time is considered a luxury usually only enjoyed by nobility, or highly ranked individuals (Eckermann, 2001). The earliest example of the development of steam-powered self-propelled vehicles were believed to have been constructed in China in 1655 by two French Jesuit missionaries by the name of Ferdinand Verbeist and Philippe-Marie Grimaldi (Flink, 1990). This initial development of the steam engine jump starts the idea of a self-propelled personal vehicle. Unfortunately, no further development of a steam-powered vehicle was documented until the mid 18th century. Automobile only served a small role in the society during the pre-industrial era due to its high cost and lack of availability for the masses.
The automotive industry underwent a huge technological leap during the industrial era. The 18th to 19th century signifies an era of change, more specifically, industrialization. Ferdinand Verbeist and Philippe-Marie Grimaldi’s effort on the development of the steam engine was re-ignited by Nicholas Joseph Cugnot, a Swiss engineer, between 1765 and 1770 (Flink, 1990). His efforts were followed by a few other inventors, but it was soon realized that the steam technology going nowhere due to its inefficiency. The industrial era was significant to the history of the automobile because it was during this time that inventors experimented with the idea of creating a self-propelled vehicle that could potentially lead to building vehicles are both efficient and relatively fast. Although, the steam engines weren’t efficient or fast by today’s standard, it was at its time, a pinnacle in automotive engineering.
Most of the significant advancement that brings automobile to the masses occurs during the post-industrial era. Steam engines, although almost perfected by this time, is still inefficient in the way it operates. The invention of the internal combustion engine was perhaps the single most important invention in the development of engines. Two-stroke engines quickly gain popularity and were patented around the world by different inventors. Stuart Perry gained the patent in the United States in 1844 and 1846, Etienne Lenoir in France in 1860; although the title “first” although not universally accepted, is generally given to Lenoir due to his commercial success with the engine (Flink, 1990). Nicolaus Otto in 1876 matured the two-stroke engine into a more refined and sophisticated four-stroke engine which employs an intake, compression, combustion, and exhaust stroke (Flink, 1990). One cannot possibly cover the history of the automobile without mentioning the important role of the Ford Model T. It was the first fully personal and affordable car that serves the masses. Ford also invented the assembly line, a much more efficient way to assemble their model Ts that cut the assembly time by almost 10 hours (English, 2008). Automobiles productions increased rapidly around the world due to the high demands and manufacturing costs also dropped due to the invention of the assembly line. As a result, more people are able to afford a car. The constant change in technology has evolved the automobiles today. And even at its mature state today, it is being constantly improved.
Eckermann E. (2001). World History of the Automobile. Warrendale, PA: Society of Automotive Engineers, Inc. Retrieved March 25th, 2010 from
Flink J. (1990). The Automobile Age. Massachusetts: MIT Press. Retrieved March 25th, 2010 from
English A. (2008). Telegraph.co.uk – Ford Model T reaches 100. Retrieve March 25th, 2010 from