In the first decades of the 20th century, no invention affected American life more than the automobile. It gave people the freedom to travel long distances, making it possible for families to live far apart but still visit each other, or workers to commute to cities and towns without having to rely on trains or buses. It helped create jobs in a wide range of businesses. Thousands of new companies, or subsidiaries of existing ones, sprang up to supply the steel and machine tools required for the manufacture of cars, and tens of thousands of people were needed for the assembly lines on which most of them were made.
The car as we know it today was perfected in Germany and France toward the end of the 1800s by such inventors as Karl Benz, Gottlieb Daimler and Nicolaus Otto. However, it was the businessman and engineer Henry Ford who revolutionized automobile production with his concept of an assembly line, allowing cars to be produced in large numbers at relatively low cost. This meant that middle-class people could afford them.
Automobiles are now one of the most universal of modern technologies, with 1.4 billion of them on the road worldwide. Research and development engineers are constantly working to improve their design, with particular emphasis on passenger comfort options, engine performance and high-speed handling. Many automakers began as other types of businesses, like Toyota’s Kiichiro Toyoda taking the Toyoda Loom Works into the automotive industry after World War II.