Automobiles are wheeled vehicles used to transport passengers. They have four wheels and an engine to make them move on their own, without needing help from outside power like horses or bicycles. People have different needs for automobiles, and there are many kinds of cars. For example, some are sportier and more luxurious than others. Some have roofs that can be opened or taken off for an open-air drive. This is called a convertible. Others are made to be more rugged and practical for use on construction sites or at work. People who use their cars for work also have special cars that can help them carry heavy loads.
The scientific and technical building blocks of the modern automobile date back several hundred years. In the late 1600s, Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens developed a type of internal combustion engine fueled by gunpowder. The modern automobile, with its gas or diesel internal combustion engine, became a reality by the late 1800s. It was a period that has been called the Age of the Automobile.
Karl Benz of Germany invented the first automobile in 1885, although his prototype was difficult to maintain and drive. Henry Ford came along in 1908 with a revolutionary manufacturing method that greatly expanded the number of cars available and brought down costs, making them more affordable for average families. By the 1920s, most Americans had cars. As the automobile dominated American life, it began to change society in many ways.