The automobile, as a self-propelling vehicle for private passenger transport, made its first appearance at the end of the nineteenth century. The automobile is intimately related to consumer culture, partly because of its high capital cost, partly because of its exponential growth, and largely because its significance has radically transcended its utility value (mobility) to become symbolic of identity, status, and lifestyle. In addition, the automobile captures some of the contradictions of consumer culture in terms of inequalities in its distribution and the health and environmental implications of mass consumption.

There had been steam-driven buses competing with railways in the early nineteenth century, and steam tractors were widely used in farming since the mid-nineteenth century. But it was only from the 1890s—beginning in France—that automobiles ...

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