Automobiles are four-wheeled vehicles that carry passengers and use a motor for propulsion. They have transformed everyday life in countless ways and allow people to travel great distances at speed. In the United States alone, automobiles are driven three trillion miles (five trillion kilometers) each year. They have shaped urban design, government services, industry, and even the way we shop, dine, and vacation. They have also revolutionized the economy and created new jobs.
No one inventor can be credited with the invention of the modern automobile, which developed bit by bit from the ideas, imagination, fantasy, and tinkering of hundreds of individuals through centuries of time. Some of these inventors have faded into historic obscurity, while others, like Francesco di Giorgio Martini and Leonardo da Vinci, are credited with the first concept that could be called an automobile.
The automobile has been so pervasive and important that in the early 20th century it ranked first in value of products, was one of the biggest consumers of steel and petroleum, and provided one out of every six jobs in America. It has revolutionized society in many ways, and the automobile was the catalyst that prompted a shift from a manufacturing-oriented to a consumer goods-oriented culture in the United States.
The automobile has given us more personal freedom and opened new opportunities to experience the beauty of nature, visit family and friends, and explore the country. It has also enabled new businesses and expanded many existing ones, including gas stations, hotels, and amusement parks.