Automobiles, or cars, are wheeled vehicles that carry people and their luggage. Most definitions of automobiles include the phrase “wheeled vehicles that are constructed principally for transporting people rather than goods.” There are 1.4 billion passenger cars in use around the world, 140 million of which are in the United States. There are many different types of cars, ranging from small city-slickers to large luxury limousines. Cars can be powered by gas, electricity, steam, or petroleum-based fuels. They may have one to seven seats and are built on a four-wheel chassis. The engine can be located in the front of the vehicle, over or ahead of the front axle; in the middle of the vehicle; or behind the rear axle.
The scientific and technical building blocks of the modern automobile date back several hundred years. Inventors and engineers experimented with different engines, using steam, electric power, or gasoline. Steam and electric cars could travel quickly, but they were often difficult to start, had a limited range, and required frequent refueling. The gasoline internal combustion engine became dominant in the 1910s.
The automobile gave people new freedoms. They could leave work earlier or later, go shopping, visit friends and family, or take weekend trips. They could also demonstrate their individuality by decorating their cars with messages like “votes for women.” In 1916, two women, Nell Richardson and Alice Burke, made a pretty bold trip across the country in their car to advocate for the right of women to vote.