By , electric cars were at their heyday, accounting for around a third of all vehicles on the road.
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During the next 10 years, they continued to show strong sales. To understand the popularity of electric vehicles circa , it is also important to understand the development of the personal vehicle and the other options available. At the turn of the 20th century, the horse was still the primary mode of transportation.
But as Americans became more prosperous, they turned to the newly invented motor vehicle -- available in steam, gasoline or electric versions -- to get around. Steam was a tried and true energy source, having proved reliable for powering factories and trains. Some of the first self-propelled vehicles in the late s relied on steam; yet it took until the s for the technology to take hold in cars.
Steam vehicles required long startup times -- sometimes up to 45 minutes in the cold -- and would need to be refilled with water, limiting their range. As electric vehicles came onto the market, so did a new type of vehicle -- the gasoline-powered car -- thanks to improvements to the internal combustion engine in the s. They required a lot of manual effort to drive -- changing gears was no easy task and they needed to be started with a hand crank, making them difficult for some to operate.
They were also noisy, and their exhaust was unpleasant. Electric cars quickly became popular with urban residents -- especially women. They were perfect for short trips around the city, and poor road conditions outside cities meant few cars of any type could venture farther. For example, Ferdinand Porsche, founder of the sports car company by the same name, developed an electric car called the P1 in Even Henry Ford, who was friends with Edison, partnered with Edison to explore options for a low-cost electric car in , according to Wired.
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Introduced in , the Model T made gasoline-powered cars widely available and affordable. That same year, Charles Kettering introduced the electric starter, eliminating the need for the hand crank and giving rise to more gasoline-powered vehicle sales. Other developments also contributed to the decline of the electric vehicle.
By the s, the U. With the discovery of Texas crude oil, gas became cheap and readily available for rural Americans, and filling stations began popping up across the country. In comparison, very few Americans outside of cities had electricity at that time. In the end, electric vehicles all but disappeared by Over the next 30 years or so, electric vehicles entered a sort of dark ages with little advancement in the technology.
Cheap, abundant gasoline and continued improvement in the internal combustion engine hampered demand for alternative fuel vehicles.
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Fast forward to the late s and early s. Soaring oil prices and gasoline shortages -- peaking with the Arab Oil Embargo -- created a growing interest in lowering the U. Behavior beyond the workplace soon took precedence in the minds of many who preferred to "work to live" rather than "live to work. People moved to the suburbs, took extended vacations, used the car to free themselves from the bounds of the home, and generally consumed their free time in ways never before imagined.
These activities—like the heightened demand for steel and glass—multiplied across the American economy to produce travel-related services such as roadside restaurants, service stations, and motels. The car also obliterated the need for some existing industries, particularly fixed-rail commuter service and animal-powered transit.
Some textbooks address the implications of these changes. As a powerful symbol of modernity, the automobile represented individual freedom, mobility, and independence. The car also linked the profound economic changes especially the rise of big business to the pursuit of personal happiness through consumption.
Increasingly, Americans defined a happy life by one that offered personal and immediate gratification, even if this meant rising debt and a loss of local community. Those unable to meet the economic threshold required to sustain the "goods life" soon found themselves excluded from consideration. The social costs of individual automobile use remained hidden. Tax dollars once applied to public mass transit shifted to user fees gas taxes that paid for road improvements or liability insurance.
Rising incidents of automotive crime, auto accidents, and sexual promiscuity earned the condemnation of isolated agencies and the sorrow of their victims , but did little to stem the rising tide of change.
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While textbooks do a fine job framing these three issues, they too often neglect several other key considerations. For example, the gasoline-powered internal combustion engine remained only one option see Primary Source Internal Combustion Engine . Steam and electric cars were both functional and productive options in They were discarded because of the relative low cost and availability of gasoline.
Ford's business model, too, significantly changed the relationship workers developed with their employers and their careers. Perfectly suited to the new consumer ethos of America, increasingly workers defined their lives through the goods they consumed rather than the jobs they held. Now that all-electric vehicles are old news, car engineers are turning their attention to new groundbreaking transportation technology.
Industry insiders are extremely excited about the concept of driverless vehicles. Automated cars could save lives.
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Remember those death and injury stats you read a few minutes ago? Automakers are hoping that driverless vehicles will help alleviate the problem. Since virtually all accidents are due to driver error, the rational is computer systems will be able to make better, quicker decisions.
There are already a number of driverless vehicles being tested, but only time will tell if backseat drivers will be the way of the future.
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Need to get your license until self-driving cars are actually a reality? Check out Aceable get to get your license fast. How the Invention of the Car Changed the World. The Model-T started it all Of course, there have also been a few drawbacks to the creation of the automobile. Cars Helped Revolutionized Production Henry Ford is known as the godfather of the American car industry, even though Carl Benz invented the first vehicle in The assembly line made cars affordable Ford perfected step-by-step assembly line production by using standardized, interchangeable parts.
Cars Enabled People to Travel and Relocate More Readily The most obvious change for everyday people was that cars gave them a way to get around quickly. The Politics of Driving Because vehicle manufacturing is such a huge industry and affects safety, politics and government regulation are inescapable. Electric cars are a good alternative for enviromentalists The Future of Vehicles and What It May Mean for American Society Now that all-electric vehicles are old news, car engineers are turning their attention to new groundbreaking transportation technology.
Automated cars could save lives Remember those death and injury stats you read a few minutes ago? She loves using her passion for writing and tracking marketing trends to help Aceable's students learn necessary skills to succeed in their lives and careers.
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