American Car Culture: Celebrating 128 Years of Auto History

This day in 1886 represents a life-changer in the American way of life: the birth of the Internal Combustion Automobile. The Benz Patent Motorwagen, by Karl Benz, was the first car – and since then, the American has come to spend 101 minutes a day driving. That ends up being approximately 7% of every person’s life – over 5 years spent in a car!

The fact is, driving a car is a part of our culture – our birthright. Nothing gives confidence like that set of keys handed to someone on their 16th (give or take depending on your state) birthday. Opening that car with it’s unique smell, revving the engine for the first time… cars have become as much a part of our lives as cats, dogs and horses were (until the car replaced them).

In the past nearly 150 years, we’ve seen cars go from unfiltered ICE’s with manual transmissions and live rear axles to electric racers with paddle shifters, adaptive suspensions, and tiny econo-mobiles for the spend-thrifty everyman. In America, our dependence on the car is unparalleled – and our love for the auto has grown and shrunk with the times. A stick shift is now a special option – for old lovers of the 20th Century automobile and the sporty feel of the gasoline engine.

 Those are some fun facts and a basic overview, but nothing sums up the automobile better than videos of high revving overtures to the modern car.

That’s a live car race – but car culture would not be complete without the over budget, physics challenging great car chase scenes from movies.

And what do cars and car chases do for our brains? Increasing adrenaline levels – even releasing cortisol for those who don’t like cars, are a few of the mental responses. Manual cars may be going extinct (sadly) but have you ever heard the expression that a person who can drive a stick shift is a better all around driver? This is because it teaches spatial understanding, and a better understanding of how the car handles and exactly how the engine performs.

So happy birthday, automobile. We look forward to the next 4+ years we will spend driving you… Unless there is a suitable flying option that will take you over. Who knows what psychological connections that last 100+ years of automobile culture have imprinted upon our brains, genes, and society.

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