With a pop and a splutter, the concept of personal transport with its own mobile power source suddenly came to life at the end of the 19th century. German pioneers worked out ways to create “light locomotives”—a leap of imagination that mixed the mobility of the bicycle with miniature versions of the stationary engines then revolutionizing manufacturing industries.
Within 20 years, the “automobile” industry itself was already thriving as, one by one, the design and reliability problems were systematically addressed. Entrepreneurs could sniff riches and, by 1910, cars were already evolving away from being rich men’s playthings into consumer products that were competing for public favor.
With a standardized format of front engine, rear-drive, and a choice of bodywork, the automobile started to radically alter the landscape. The road network, refueling infrastructure, and the very design of our homes evolved to accommodate this brilliant new way to get ourselves where we wanted to be whenever we wanted to go there.