Automobiles are vehicles for transporting passengers that are powered by an internal combustion engine, usually fueled by gasoline. They are one of the most common and widespread of modern technologies, with about 1.4 billion in use worldwide. The car has revolutionized society by giving people freedom of movement that was previously impossible. Modern life has come to seem almost inconceivable without access to an automobile, and cars have become the primary mode of transportation for most families. Automobiles also create jobs by generating demand for industries and services that supply parts and fuel.
Exactly who invented the first automobile is not known, though Leonardo da Vinci produced sketches of a motor vehicle around 1500 and the steam-powered locomotives of that period are sometimes called automobiles. The earliest practical gas-powered automobiles were built by Emile Levassor and Armand Peugeot of France, who developed a car in 1890 that used a Daimler engine. Its ad-hoc system of wheeled cradles allowed it to reach speeds of up to 75 km/h, six times faster than the winning cyclist of the first Paris-Brest-Paris bicycle race.
In the 1920s Henry Ford pioneered mass production techniques that brought automobile costs down to levels affordable for middle class families. This led to a great deal of consolidation in the industry as small producers were replaced by the Big Three. Manufacturers funneled their resources to wartime production during the 1940s, but once the war ended pent-up demand for new cars was quick to rise.