Throughout most of the twentieth century, the city of Detroit has been synonymous with American automobile manufacturing. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, that was not the case. Instead, Ohio innovators in Cleveland and elsewhere were at the forefront of this new form of transportation technology. Alexander Winton is credited with many of the industry's early advances. Winton called his earliest designs "horseless carriages," but soon they became known as automobiles instead. Winton and the other early car manufacturers used publicity from cross-country automobile trips and races to create interest in their products. Dayton resident Charles F. Kettering invented the electric starter, which revolutionized the early automotive industry. Some of the first automobile manufacturers were located in Ohio, such as the Winton Motor Car Company, White Motor Company, Peerless Motor Vehicle Company, Packard Motor Company, and the Baker Motor Vehicle Company. Some, like the Columbus Buggy Company, began their history as manufacturers of horse-drawn buggies and carriages and then made the transition to the new technology. Unfortunately, most of these companies only lasted for a short time. They were on the forefront of innovation at first, but soon other manufacturers surpassed their advances. Some of these companies became part of General Motors Corporation in the first few decades of the twentieth century.
The automobile had a significant effect on many aspects of American life. As more and more automobiles were manufactured, Ohioans demanded that improvements be made to roads. Most roads before the advent of the automobile were not paved, but drivers wanted paved roads to create better driving conditions. Both the state and local governments also had to pass laws to regulate automobile traffic and protect Ohio citizens. Even the development of cities began to change with the increase in automobile use. People who owned automobiles could live further away from the city than ever before and were not dependent upon public transportation. Many Americans who had automobiles also used them to go on vacations, spawning the growth of new businesses such as gas stations, motels, and roadside restaurants.