Adm. Fletcher and R.A.C. Smith - Glass negative photogrpah. Public domain.
Photograph shows U.S. Navy Admiral Frank Friday Fletcher (1855-1928), Commander of the Atlantic fleet, with Robert A.C. Smith (1857-1933), Commissioner of Docks in New York City; in automobile in front of City Hall, New York City. (Source: Flickr Commons project, 2012)
The automobile was first invented and perfected in Germany and France in the late 1890s. Americans quickly came to dominate the automotive industry after WWI. Throughout this initial era, the development of automotive technology was rapid. Hundreds of small manufacturers competing to gain the world's attention. Key developments included the electric ignition system, independent suspension, and four-wheel brakes. Transmissions and throttle controls were widely adopted and safety glass also made its debut. Henry Ford perfected mass-production techniques, and Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler emerged as the “Big Three” auto companies by the 1920s. Car manufacturers received enormous orders from the military during World War II, and afterward automobile production in the United States, Europe, and Japan soared.