• Jul 4, 2010
The first internal combustion-powered automobile was not invented by an American (thank you, Karl Benz). But we did invent the motorcycle (coal-powered), air brake, AC motor, stop sign, tractor, assembly line, automatic transmission, muffler, tow truck, bulldozer, car radio, tracked amphibious landing vehicle, stock car racing, cruise control, carbon fiber, the integrated circuit, satellite navigation, airbags, catalytic converter, The Mars Rover and even the Segway. In other words, we didn't invent the automobile but we did contribute much of the technology that makes it what it is today.
In fact, we'd argue that while the Industrial Revolution began in the textile mills and iron foundries of Great Britain, the entire world went mobile when we Americans got our hands on the automobile. When Henry Ford introduced the assembly line (with conveyor) in 1918 1913, he put the world on wheels. Before the Model T, cars were conveyances for the wealthy, but the assembly line brought down costs to the point where car ownership became attainable to all. Ol' Henry's assembly line was so successful that the model was applied to almost every other area of manufacturing the world over, driving down the cost of goods and making life better for all.

[Image: rogerimp | CC 2.0]
The auto industry even mechanized the U.S. military leading up to World War II. Back in 1940, Ford manufacturing whiz Charlie Sorensen traveled to California to witness the construction of military aircraft. What he saw was an antiquated production process that was rife with variability - the enemy of speed an quality. Sorensen told military brass that he could do better, and one day later he laid out plans to build a B-24 bomber every hour. Ford Motor Company then backed up Sorensen's words by building Willow Run. It was the largest manufacturing facility in the world at the time, with a mile-long assembly line. Willow Run ended up churning out 25 Liberators per day and 8,800 bombers during its production run. General Motors, Ford and Chrysler built everything from parts to tanks to aircraft, and did so on a scale never before seen in the history of mankind. Our manufacturing might made this country the most powerful nation on earth, and automotive production was a big part of its ascent to power. When soldiers returned from war, car factories went back to doing what they did best: pumping out American metal.

Much has happened in the ensuing decades: the outrageous designs of Harley Earl; the muscle-car era; the entry of Japanese and Korean automakers into the U.S. market; the new horsepower wars; the push for greener transportation. America is the home to the first mass-produced V8 engine, the Model T, the 1932 Ford Coupe, the '57 Chevy, the Corvette, the Mustang and the Challenger. Today this country is home to dozens of production facilities from both transplants and domestic automakers, providing thousands of high-wage jobs to the citizenry.

Through everything, Americans have treated the automobile as a family member. Heck, we'd wager that many Autoblog readers can trace back their love of cars to the ones their fathers and grandfathers were constantly tinkering with in the garage.

There's a good reason the United States has been the number one consumer of automobiles for the better part of the last century. This country is huge, with 3.8 million square miles of land and 8.5 million lane miles of roads. This 4th of July weekend, an estimated 35 million Americans are traveling to areas around the country to be with family, have a BBQ and witness (or perhaps light) some fireworks.

The vast majority of those travelers aren't on planes, trains or buses; they're in their cars and on the open road. And that's exactly where we hope you are this holiday; enjoying the precious freedom to roam about this great nation. Happy 4th of July.

[With information from the Timeline of United States inventions]


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  • 17 Comments
      • 4 Years Ago
      Yeah the automobile isn't what it used to be. In fact, most American's have forgot what driving was about. Now its all about apps and reading emails in the dash. If Chevrolet wants to be an American Revolution then it needs to make more cars today like the one in the main pic.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Americans (at least the young ones) take the freedom to roam freely for granted. Before the great highways, before the affordable car, Americans didn't roam too far from the farm.

        Traveling is not the great adventure it once was. There are better things to do in a car than pay attention to the road.

        Talking with my son about traveling east to visit his granddad this summer, the boy told me he didn't want to fly. He wants to go by car. No PSPs, no DVDs. His choice, not mine. :)

        Anyone have a '55 Chevy or a Mustang/Challenger I can put 3k miles on in 2 weeks? I'll fill it up when we get back.
      • 4 Years Ago
      We did not create air bags - politicians have been around for many centuries.


      And happy ID to all!!
      • 4 Years Ago
      But we did invent the ............ and don't forgot the HUD in the cars (I love mine, very useful) :-)
      • 4 Years Ago
      Random Olds brought out the assembly line, Henry Ford was #3. What he did was bring out a car that was deliberately underfeatured so it would sell to the masses, which was an achievement he deserves credit for. Not inventing the automobile (which Mercedes would later claim credit for) or applying the assembly line to automobile production.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Might have been under featured but for the money it was more of a car than any other in that time. Henry Ford innovated with the Model T with such things as the first American company to use Vanadium steel in a American vehicle.

        The Model T also used a single cast and solid block and a separate block unlike the other cars in that day that had a separate blocks for each cylinder.

        Ford got rid of the storage battery and added a flywheel magneto to the engine crank which saved weight and got rid of something else that would have broke and cost the owners more money.

        The reason the Model T is a great car is because the car was something a normal family could buy without being rich or royal. It was also ungodly more reliable than the competition with the innovations added to it.
        • 4 Years Ago
        His name was "Ransom", not "Random".
      • 4 Years Ago
      Hell yeah. Loved this article.

      Happy fourth, everyone!
      • 4 Years Ago
      Eisenhower called Detroit the Arsenal of Democracy.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Happy 4th of July everyone!
      scookd
      • 4 Years Ago
      You for got the stop light on great American inventions related to the automobile. Just saying.

      http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garrett_A._Morgan?wasRedirected=true
      • 4 Years Ago
      Wasn'tthe S-Class the first car with an airbag? And the Acura Legend the first car with satellite navigation? What's the point of being the first to discover all this if foreigners are the first to make it available? And let's not talk about China.

      Good article, shaky facts.

      Happy 4th, from this foreigner.
        • 4 Years Ago
        The US Military invented satellite navigation and I didn't say anything about who is responsible for the green scene. It is indisputable that the industry is going in that direction, with smaller vehicles like the Fiesta, battery powered vehicles like the Volt and progressively tougher regulations by the U.S and European governments.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Well the satellite navigation thing for one, the 1918 thing has already been corrected, and American manufacturers haven't been part of the green push, they were pushed by greenies. Increasing foreign oil prices and advanced competition I think are the real reasons behind the 2016 CAFE mileage requirement.

      • 4 Years Ago
      I'm not american, and I'm not a big fan of american cars, but I do follow my auto news at autoblog, and I believe this is one of the best articles I've read here. It does shows all the importance the auto industry has to the USA in a very clear and simple way.
      Great text!
      Congrats
      • 4 Years Ago
      And thanks to Charles Kettering, who founded Delco and was head of GM research for more than a quarter century, we have the electric starting motor (originally for the Cadillac), the modern ignition system, leaded gasoline (when he worked for DuPont), and Freon for refrigeration and vehicle AC.
      • 4 Years Ago
      My recollection is that the factory blue on the '60 was lighter than the car in the photo, as in my mother's Impala ragtop. the interior was light blue also, like the one in the photo.
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