Cars – half of the time we hate them – but where would we be without them? They do what every vehicle since the invention of the wheel has done, they get us from A to B, a simple task at first sight, but made much more complicated by our desire to also make the humble automobile our banner, denoting our success in the world, coming close in importance and expense, to our homes! The make of car has to be carefully chosen, not so much for its fuel economy or its power, but more for its value as a status symbol! Is it more expensive than the neighbours? Is it the right, fashionable colour, and does it stand out from the other vehicles outside the school, when the kids are dropped off?
Whoever it was who discovered that first wheel didn’t do us any favours in many ways! But it certainly and suddenly gave everyone who possessed it something that put them ahead of anyone who didn’t; it meant you could travel faster than anyone who was on foot (even if it was only a little faster!); in battle it gave you an elevated position over your wheelless enemy, enabling you to throw missiles down upon him from a position of comparative safety; it became, very soon after its discovery, an important status symbol, so that Egyptian Pharos travelled in decorated chariots while their armies marched, and it meant, once people thought of it, that much larger cargoes could be carried much greater distances, opening up a whole new world of trade to those adventurous enough to take advantage of the opportunity. Water had until the wheel, been the main means of transport, bringing exotic goods from across the sea, goods which could also be distributed inland, as long as there was a river. No river meant the goods were only available in any quantity, close to the sea, but with the wheel came roads and with roads came an enormous increase of inland trade.
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Until the invention of the engine, vehicles were really no more than carts, trays with axles at each end and a wheel on each end of the axle. Even the glorious coaches of the rich and Royalty were in essence just carts with a lot of applied decoration. In fact, even after the development of early engines, the vehicles they powered still looked amazingly like the earlier, horse-drawn coaches, most of them without even the benefit of a roof! The car, as it came to be called was thought of for many years as some ‘flash-in-the-pan’ fad that would die out once people got fed up with the noise and the smoke.
But some engineers spotted the possibilities offered by this new wonder and it wasn’t long before engines got bigger and better, cars took on their distinctive shape, which, heavily disguised of course is actually still with us today, engine at the front driving rear wheels, passengers in between. And the place for the passengers became much more comfortable and sophisticated too, with leather seats and carpeted floors.
Then oil was discovered, in vast quantities, all over the world and the age of the car began in earnest! A myriad of companies sprang up, designing and building the new wonder vehicle, in an age when, by pure chance, the industrial age was coming into full swing, with the new-fangled factories knocking out products by the million that had previously been largely hand made before and therefore limited in their quantities! This led to Henry Ford’s idea for the ‘assembly-line’.
And just look at us now, ruled by the car, spending a large portion of our incomes on buying and servicing the brute; travelling, because there are now far too many of them, very little faster than the old horse-drawn coaches, especially in our grid-locked towns and cities and breathing in fumes so toxic that they can kill in minutes in an enclosed environment!
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But as I said at the beginning – where would we be without them?
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