It is hard to imagine life without cars. Cars have formed an important part of our lives and the quality and power of the car one drives is used to define his/her standard of living. They have become a status symbol rather than their original intention as a means of transport. Cars provide an individualized and privatized means of transportation.
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The motor vehicles did not just rise in a single day but rather have evolved from the earliest models to the more sophisticated automobiles dominating our roads today. It has been a gradual process starting from when the wheel was first invented and through several other stages.
This paper traces the stages through the history that the cars have undergone from the primitive carriages of the 1880s to the fast, complex, and comfortable vehicle that dominate our roads in the 21st century (Volti 1).
The Invention of the Wheel
This marked the infancy stage in the development of transportation known to us today. However, it is hard to know who or exactly when the wheel was invented but reports show that this may date back to more than 5000 years. The inspiration for the development of the wheel arose as people sought for easier and better means of moving things around. People had discovered that rounded objects could lessen the amount of effort needed if heavy things were placed over them and pushed along.
The sledge was soon later incorporated as a means of moving things, it was recognized that when sledge was pulled on a smooth surface or on logs, the amount of energy needed to push it was reduced.
The sledge was further improved by making grooves on the logs on which it was placed thus reducing the amount of friction between the logs and the sledge. This further lessened the amount of the effort needed and when the wood between the two inner grooves were cut, the wood that remained between the grooves now formed the axle. This type of sledge formed the first carts.
The next natural thing that the inventors of the wheel did was to design the axle so that it could fit into the hole made in the centre of the wooden wheel. Further improvements on the axle were made to ensure that the axle remained static while the wheel was made to rotate on it. Further improvements on the design of the wheel were made in different parts of the world with an aim of fitting different purposes such as war chariots, racing carts, and freight wagons.
The Age of the Horse Drawn Carriages
During the first stages, the wheeled vehicles were pulled by people, oxen or horses but later the internal combustion engine were invented to replace ‘horse power’ as it was called then. The use of horses to pull the carriages allowed for the people to wield more power and to expand their territorial borders. The amount of pollution caused by horse wastes in European cities resulted in inventors looking for alternative forms of transportation.
The Horseless Carriages and the Steam Engine
Steam-powered vehicle came into being in the late 18th century but were only considered more potentially practical in the early 19th century. Nicholas Cugnot (1725-1804) built the first steam powered vehicles that were supposed to haul French army artillery. It is recorded that his first steam vehicle travelled at a steady 3km/hr but run out of the steam power in less than 25 minutes (Volti 2). Cugnot second steam engine also failed prompting the government to drop the project.
Development of Locomotives
Early 1830s witnessed continued interest in the steam as a source of power and the period continued to experience development in locomotives, steam powered tractors, and other forms of vehicles. In England, automobiles powered by steam were on the rise but their growth was terminated immaturely as more emphasis was laid on rail locomotives.
The Role of the Bicycle in the Development of Cars
There was great stride in the development of bicycles during the 1840s. The development of the bicycle is very important in the history of cars as most of the parts found in the early cars owed their origin from them.
Such parts as the chain-and-sprocket drive, the tires, bearings, spooked wheels and many other components of the automobile were derived from the bicycle. Steam cars faced limitations in the building technology and lack of good roads and it was only in the 19th century that personal transportation emerged. These cars were very heavy thus meaning that they could only travel on rails to function effectively.
The steam engines were therefore used on railroads leading to the great success of the railroad industry. The steam engines operated by burning wood or other fuel and the thus generated heated water in boilers. The resulting steam was used in driving pistons up and down and in the process turning the crankshaft, which ultimately moved the wheels. These steam engines required numerous stops to replenish its water and also needed long time to start.
The Internal Combustion Engines
The invention of internal combustion engines was influenced by the idea of personal mobility. This venture required that individual vehicles have a source of power to drive them.
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As already seen, steam power was out of question and could not be used in personal cars because of their weight and the fact that they could only use rails. This led to the idea of an internal combustion engine that contained an air-fuel mixture within it. Attempts to make an internal combustion engine dates back to the late 17th century; when efforts to use gunpowder were made but failed.
Lenoir’s double acting engine
In 1850s, a French engineer, Etienne Lenoir constructed a double acting engine in which an ignited mixture of air and gas was used to push the piston to the far end and of the cylinder creating a power stroke. When this piston was pushed back I the same mechanism, another power stroke was created and the exhausted gas was expelled.
Therefore, for each revolution of the crankshaft, two power strokes were produced. This kind of engine had its disadvantage in that the air was not compressed before being burned and therefore the engine produced less power and was inefficient. However, Lenoir’s engine was far much better when compared to the steam engine since it had a higher thermal efficiency.
Early development in Germany
In Germany, Nicholas Otto also made significant steps in the development of steam engine. Together with his friend Eugen Langen (1833-1895), Otto developed a four-stroke cycle in 1876. This model of engine was however not efficient but was a gap in the building of more improved combustion engines.
Daimler’s first ‘car’
In 1885, two of Otto’s workers; Gottlieb Daimler (1834-19000) and Wilhelm Maybach (1847-1929) made improvements on Otto’s four stroke engine by installing a single cylinder engine on a two wheeled frame which came to be referred to as the first motorcycle. The same engine was installed onto a four wheeled wagon to make the first internal combustion engine car (Volti 4).
Carl Benz (1844-1902) constructed a three wheeled vehicle that used Otto’s four stroke combustion engine and was better than that constructed by Daimler (Flink 11). Carl’s three wheeled vehicle marked the beginning of personalized road trips when his family made a 200 kilometres journey in it.
The progress of the internal combustion engine in France
Germany is credited with the manufacture of the first cars but credit also goes to France where considerable steps in the motor industry. Peugeot, a steel metal company, constructed the first car that used a v-twin engine which was a Daimler engine design. Peugeot later on produced its own design of engine which used independently pivoting wheels.
Another French company, Panhard et Levassor also introduced a car that was more sophisticated than the Peugeot. Panhard’s model of engine, termed systeme panhard had its engine mounted on the front and operated by turning the rear wheels via a driveshaft that run underneath the car.
The United States of America joins the car industry
The united states marked a slow start in the motor vehicle invention and remained stuck in the ‘buggy’ despite making big strides in the manufacture of other industrial products such as watches, typewriters and fire arms at relatively low costs. Its first internal combustion engine automobile was designed by Charles and frank Duryea in Massachusetts in 1893. The car was propelled by an engine with a single-cylinder and contained a spray carburetor and electric ignition.
In 1894, the first gasoline car was made by Elmer and Edger Apperson using the Hayne’s design. The Duryea motor wagon company came into existence in 1895 and specialized in gasoline cars. Henry Ford first built his two cylinder engine car in Detroit and only registered the Ford Motor Company in 1903. Other important car builders in US during the early stages included; Ransom E. Olds and William C. Durant who founded General Motors in 1908.
This mostly came into being in the 1830s but failed due to the fact that early batteries were limited in their capacity to store energy. Because they operated within towns, the cars were relatively advantageous since they did not require to be occasionally replenished with water (Larmine & lowry 93).
They could also travel longer distance comparatively. However their prominence dwindled in the 1900s as the advantage was taken by the gasoline cars. Other factors that led to the near demise of electric cars were the expansion and betterment of roads between cities thus creating the need for long range cars. Gasoline availability also meant that gasoline cars were easier to maintain than the electric cars. Another brow to the electric cars was rendered by the invention of the electric starter by Charles Kettering in 1911.
The great success in the evolution of automobiles, prior to this development; vehicles powered by gasoline were started by a hand crank which was more dangerous and difficult to use. Finally, the initiation of mass production of vehicles using internal combustion engine made their availability and affordability possible when compared to electric cars (Mom 98).
During the years that followed (1911-1960s), there was an almost complete disappearance of the electric cars. The years between 1960 and 1970 experienced an urge to re-introduce electric cars. This was mainly because of the increase in air pollution caused by the internal combustion engine cars and the rise in the prices of crude oil. There followed many attempts by various companies to come up with electric trucks that would be easy to maintain.
Recent developments have been aimed at producing environmental friendly vehicles and emphasis has been laid on electric cars. Among some of the modern electric cars in the market include the Toyota RAV4 sport, Honda EV Plus sedan and several models of Chrysler.
Early car makers employed similar techniques in the manufacture of cars. This technique were however similar to those used in heavy engineering industries. Early automobile companies were initially bicycle makers such as Peugeot and the Riley in Britain.
These motor companies used skilled workers in modest workshops but as volume of production increased, there was change to batch system. In the one-off system, workers and parts moved to the areas of the workshop where the car was positioned. Accessory machines were also grouped in regard to the type of work performed by each.
Conveyer belts were first used in Henry Ford’s workshop. Assembly of the car parts was later done in one location. The first moving assembly line was used in Ford’s workshop. The chain driven assembly line replaced the sliding rail system in the ford workshop. Modern manufacturing techniques are highly automated and in some companies, most of the work is done by robots. The final results of modern technology are faster, more comfortable and reliable cars.
Modern Internal Combustion Engine Cars
There is a great deal of differences in cars we have today and those present in the early years. However, it is worth mentioning that the principles have relatively remained the same and only the outlook and few other aspects have been changing. Internal combustion engines may use diesel or petrol.
However, for a long time, diesel powered vehicle were neglected but are now making a comeback because of their high efficiency and long life. Diesel powered vehicle can also burn other types of fuel. These vehicles are more expensive compared to gas cars.
There are numerous car manufacturing companies today when compared to the earlier years. The US is today the highest producer of motor vehicles in the world today while Japan is the second. The amount of cars in the world today exceeds 1 billion with the number expected to rise in the near future. This large number of cars continues to cause far reaching effects on the environment due to pollution thus raising the issue of environmental friendly cars (Walsh 4).
It is true that the invention of cars completely changed the way of life of man. It was a gradual process that took place over a long period and underwent through numerous stages and processes. The history of the car spans back to about 250 year and took place in several countries in Europe and in the US. German is credited with being the place of birth of the motor cars. This important technical invention has helped shape various cultures in the world
- Automobile- a wheeled motor vehicle with own engine and used in transport
- Axle- a small shaft around which a wheel rotates
- Battery- electrochemical cells designed to convert chemical form of energy into electrical energy
- Buggy-a light carriage that is pulled by one horse or oxen
- Carburettor- a component of an internal combustion engine that mixes air and fuel
- Carriage – horse drawn vehicle.
- Chariot- a carriage that is drawn by horses and mainly used in ceremonies
- Combustion-the process of reacting oxygen with a given substance to yield heat and light
- Conveyer belts- a mobile belt that is used in industries to transport objects
- Crankshaft-a shaft found in cars that rotates when driven by a crank
- Crude oil- dark oil containing many hydro carbons
- Demise- death
- Diesel- heavy oil
- Driveshaft- a metal shaft that help transmit rotary power from the point of production (engine) to the point of application.
- Dwindle- to decline or decrease
- Gasoline- this is a very volatile mixture of several gases that comes from petroleum and functions as fuel for vehicles
- Groove- a furrow cut in wood
- Hayne’s design- an early design in the manufacture of engines in which it was placed in the front and the power transmitted to the rear of the car
- Ignition- process of making something catch fire
- Petrol- gasoline
- Piston- is a part of the internal combustion engines that is found in a cylinder and is used to channel power from the expanding gas to the crankshaft
- Pollution- contaminating the environment with harmful unwanted substances
- Propel- use of force to make an object move forward
- Railroad- metal road on which trains travel
- Replenish- refill
- Robot- a device designed to move automatically
- Sledge-a small vehicle that is pulled by a dog or a horse
- Spooked- wheel- a wheel with wire or wooden devices that held the axle in place
- Steam- vapour produced when water is heated.
Flink, James. The Automobile Age. USA: MIT press, 1998.
Larmine and lowry. Electric Vehicle Technology Explained. USA: John Willey and Sons, 2003
Mom, Gijs. The Electric Vehicle: Technology And Expectations In The Automobile Age. USA: John Hopkins University Press, 2004.
Volti, Rudi. Cars and Culture: The Life Story of a Technology. New York: John Hopkins University press. 2004
Walsh, Michael. Moving Toward Clean Vehicles and Fuels: A Global Overview. New York: Air and Waste Management Association, 2004.