* travel and transport -- mode : automobile car United States America








The Automobile and America


Figure 1.-- The picture is of Bill Dobler, a lifetime member of AAA, as a boy about 6 years old. He is sitting on his grandfather's car. The photograph dates from about 1930. Note the 1929 Missouri license plate on the car.

No mechanical device affected American culture more than the automobile. Much of the growth in the American economy after the turn of the 20th century was centered on the new automobile. The American economy by the 1920s was to a large extent centered on the automobile. It was the industry centered on the automobile and trucks that peovided the back bone for the arsenal of democracy that helped defeat the NAZIs and Japanese militarists in World War I. The autmobile also have a profound cultural imapct on America. City planning began to take place when the automobile in mind. Sometimes more attention was given go the automobile than people. The autmobile made possible the move to the suburbs, especilly after World War II. There wre many other cultural impacts of the automobile. Few events were more important for an America boy than obtaining that all important driving license. Other countries were similarly affected, but not to the same extent as the United States. Historical images of boys' clothing sometimes appeared in automobile adverisements. Many American families would have photographs taken around the family automobile. It is interesting to note when searching through E-Bay, the number of American portraits picturing the children and parents with the family car.

Economic Importance

No mechanical device affected American economy in the 20 century more than the automobile. Much of the growth in the American economy after the turn-of-the 20th century was centered on the new automobile. Americans did not invent the automobile. Here the Europeans led the way. And what they produced was a craft product a high-priced play thing for the wealthy. Workers ha to live near thevfactory where they worked. They purchased bikes to get to work. This was the situation in America as well at the turn of the century. A large number of companies made small numbers of autos--all high priced and beyond the purchasing power of workers--even American workers who earned more than European workers. The contribution to the economy was minimal. Bicylcles were more important. Henry Ford changed all of this. Ford produced eight versions of cars before the revolutionary Model T (1908). He started out making high-priced cars like the other companies. The Model-T was different. Ford got the price down to $260. It turned the automobile from a luxury item and plaything for the wealthy. Ford's Model-T became a necessity for the average Joe meaning workers amd farmers. It was inepensive, versatile, and simple, meaning easy to maintain. The United States by 1870s was exceeding econmic production levels beyond the great European powers (Germany, Britain, France, and Italy). And before the turn-of-the 20th-century America a surpassing the great European powers just in manufacturing. The United States by 1910 was beginning to approach the econmy of those powers combined and by 1940 (before massive war damage), the American economy reached that level. Much of that masive economic growth in the 20th century was due the automobile industry. Not only did the industry provide well-paying jobs with good benefits, but there important linkages with supplier industries. Jobs and production in the auto industry support many more jobs and production in supplier and service industries--giving it an oversized role in economy. Not only did the American automobile industry make cars that its wokers could afford, but in doing so dominatd car prodyctin aound the world. american subsidiaries led the industry in Britain, Germany, and the Soviet Union. And very importantantly, the United States was the only important automobile manufacturer that also had an important oil industry. As atomobile production increased, the American oil indutry shifted from keroscent to gasoline. Amrican trucks played an important role in World War I, but it was the industry centered on the automobile and trucks that provided the back bone for the arsenal of democracy that helped smash the NAZIs and Japanese militarists in World War II. It would also provide the security umbrella that would allow free societies to florish during the Cold War. and Soviet Communusm to implode.

Cultural Importance

The automobile also have a profound cultural imapct on America. It began to reshape cities andvthe American landscape. It also egan to signiicantly shape daily lives. Before the automobile, American was connected by the railroads. Roads were mostly unimprpved tarcks, espcially west of the Mississippi. There were paved roads in the cities, but the pavement did not even raech into the suburbs, let alone connecing cities. The advent of the automobile brought with it punblic demand for improved streets and roads. City planning began to take place when the automobile in mind. Sometimes more attention was given go the automobile than people. The autmobile made possible the move to the suburbs, especially after World War II. There wre many other cultural impacts of the automobile. Few events were more important for an America boy than obtaining that all important driving license. That seems to be changing, but was very imprtant during the 20th The changing landscape and mobility led to huge changes in the American lifestyle. This included imcludded commerce, courting, jobs, school, recreation, shopping, socializing, vacation, work, and much more. Other countries were similarly affected, but not to the same extent as the United States. Europeannroads were also very limited. The German Autobahn was a rare exceotion, but if you look at pre-War photographs you will see almost no cars. Unlike Americans few Germans owned cars. After World War II, the changes that remade America began to transform Eurpoe--at least Western Europe. The cost of petrol, however, meant that that automobile ownership was never as widespread as in America.

Enviromental Impact


Family Car Images

Historical images of boys' clothing sometimes appeared in automobile adverisements. Many American families would have photographs taken around the family automobile. It is interesting to note when searching through E-Bay, the number of American portraits picturing the children and parents with the family car. These images both illustrate cultural trends as well as clothing trends. The automobile by the 1920s had become an intrical part of the merican life style. Henry Ford with the Model T had made the car an affordable item for most Americans. In the prosperous 1920s many American families purchased cars. And with many families the car was a prized possession. Countless American children were photographed by the family car. It was in the 1920s that a family vacation in their car became an American institution and motels and roadside cabins sprang up all over america. These portraits by the fimely car provide interesting time-line views of children's fashions. Until the 1960s virtually all of the cars involved were American-built cars.






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Created: June 28, 2003
Last updated: 6:23 PM 11/18/2019