First let us consider the name, “automobile.” Now, a “car” could have been called anything and, sometimes, it is. Oliver Evans applied for a U.S. patent in Philadelphia in 1792 on a steam land carriage, which he called the “oruktor amphibolos!” We could have been strapped with that name forever, if it weren’t for more reasonable individuals working on the same concept.
Martini was a 14th Century Italian painter, who had been trained in engineering. He designed (on paper) a man-propelled carriage, mounted on four wheels. Each wheel was powered by a hand-turned capstan arrangement. Gearing was also provided to transmit the rotation of each capstan to the wheel below. It may have looked good on paper, but the four turners of the capstans couldn’t have kept it up for long before they fell over with exhaustion. It is lucky for us that Martini did not name his invention after himself, as many inventors do. If he had, and the word had survived to the present, it might be a little confusing. If we were offered a “Martini,” we might not know whether to drive it or drink it! (Representatives of MADD and SADD would probably tell us to park it!) We could be reading headlines like: ORUKTOR ACCIDENT TAKES THREE LIVES or UNITED MARTINI WORKERS ON STRIKE.
The really historical (and fortunate) aspect of Martini’s design is the name that he gave it: “automobile,” from the Greek word, “auto,” (self) and the Latin word, “mobils,” (moving). “Car,” on the other hand, comes from an ancient Celtic word, “carrus,” meaning cart or wagon.
George B. Selden, an attorney in Rochester, New York, applied for, and finally received, a patent for a “road machine” in 1879. The Duryea brothers (1895) called their products “motor wagons.” In 1896, Henry Ford introduced an experimental car labeled the “Quadricycle.” Newspapers used words like autometon, motor-vique, oleo locomotive, autokenetic, buggyaut, motor carriage, autobaine, automotor horse, diamote, motorig, mocole, and, of course, the horseless carriage. In 1895, H. H. Kohlsaat, publisher of the Chicago Times-Herald, offered a $500.00 prize for the best name for the motorized vehicles of the day. The judges picked “motorcycle” as the winner. “Quadricycle” was a favorite, as was “petrocar.” The word “automobile” wasn’t even in the running! But in 1897, The New York Times prophesied, “…the new mechanical wagon with the awful name — automobile…has come to stay…”
Many of the words that are associated with automobiles are derived from the French; i.e, garage, chauffeur, limousine, and chassis are just some examples.
Where Did The Idea Come From?
No one person can be credited for the invention of the automobile that you are driving today. It has developed bit by bit from the ideas, imagination, fantasy, and tinkering of hundreds of individuals through hundreds of years.
In the 13th-century, the English philosopher-scientist, Roger Bacon, said that “cars can be made so that without animals they will move with unbelievable rapidity.” Oh, Roger, if you only knew! Bacon was positive that these vehicles had existed in ancient times, but he didn’t know what propelled them.
The Greeks apparently had their own Olympic assembly line. In the “Iliad,” Haephestus (the Roman “Vulcan”), was the god of fire and invention. When he had time off from making thunder bolts and beautiful jewelry for the vain goddesses, he built three-wheeled vehicles, which moved from place to place under their own power. Homer says they were “self-moved, obedient to the gods,” and would Homer lie? The really remarkable thing about this is that even as far back as the Homeric era (8th-9th (?) century B.C.), man had already imagined automobiles.
The motorized vehicle is, indeed, a prime example of creeping development; i.e., invention through slow accumulation of bits and pieces over a time so long that it is hard to pin down its origin. Thomas Russell Ybarra, in this century, wrote rhyming doggerel which pointed to the automobile as a Roman invention. Those who care to can point to two 15th-century Italians: Francesco di Giorgio Martini (whose concept has been presented in another section) and Leonardi Da Vinci. Da Vinci conceived an armor-plated war vehicle, the propulsion system of which is much like that of Martini’s. This particular concept of Da Vinci did not contribute anything of value, not even a name, as did Martini’s.
The important thing to remember is the automobile is not some recent idea that popped up in the 19th-century, or the 18th, or even the 14th. It is a creation that has charmed imagination and inventiveness before man was able to conceive how to make it go. Perhaps that is why Homer placed it in the hands of the gods.
Ups and Downs in Automotive Progress
As early as 1600, the Dutch, no strangers to wind power, had built a wind-powered, sail-mounted carriage. These carriages were reported to hold several passengers and move at speeds as high as twenty miles per hour. These tests were abandoned in favor of small windmills built onto the carriage, with mill vanes geared to the wheels. In either case, whether equipped with sails or windmills, they never caught on; mostly because they could not move except on the whim of a breeze. However, they were probably the first real land vehicles to move under power, other than that of animal or human muscle. While the Dutch dreamed in terms of the wind, others were thinking of other means of propulsion. In the 1700s, a Frenchman, Jacques de Vaucanson (no relation to the Roman god, Vulcan), built a vehicle which was powered by an engine based on the workings of a clock. What he neglected to calculate was that any clock which was capable of moving a vehicle with passengers would have to outweigh the load it was carrying. Even winding such a clock motor would take great time and greater effort than it was worth.
Inventors in England, France, Germany and other countries worked on the idea of a compressed-air engine, but they were unable to find the solution to self-propulsion in this means. However, in their efforts, they contributed significant individual elements to the picture; elements like valves, pistons, cylinders, and connecting rods, and an emerging idea of how each of these elements related to the other. The first invention that can truly and logically be called an “automobile” was a heavy, three-wheeled, steam-driven, clumsy vehicle built in 1769 by Captain Nicolas-Joseph Cugnot, a French Army engineer. (Cugat was actually born in Switzerland, but the French don’t want to hear about it.) This mechanism was slow, ponderous, and only moved by fits and starts. In tests, it carried four passengers at a slow pace – a little over two miles per hour – and had to stop every twenty minutes to build a fresh head of steam. It was, however, a self-powered, steerable, wheeled, people transporter, thereby demonstrating that the idea of mobilization was workable. Unhappily, Cugot’s superiors were not men of vision and failed to appreciate the potential of his creation. To show him how they really felt, they disallowed him any funds for further development and transferred him to other duties. Since they had paid good money for this contraption, however, they preserved the vehicle, and it can still be seen in the Paris museum, where it is displayed with proper national pride.
In the meantime, Great Britain, who believed themselves to be the masters of steam, had begun to believe that they could put this same steam on wheels. It was probably natural that they believed this; Thomas Savery, an English engineer, had given the world its first steam engine in 1698. This engine was crude (by our standards), inefficient, and blew up at intervals. Thomas Newcomen, an English blacksmith in 1711, turned out a better, less dangerous version of the engine. Then, in 1679, James Watt, a Scottish instrument maker, had patented a truly improved steam engine that became widely used in British mills, mines, and factories. Sir Isaac Newton, in 1680, conceived of the idea of a carriage propelled by a “rearwardly directed jet of steam.” (It didn’t amount to much at the time, but Sir Isaac’s concept has become the means of rearwardly directed jets to provide the thrust for rockets to probe space.) Then, in 1801, an engineer in Cornwall, Richard Trevithick, built a road steamer, which was first tested in a Christmas Eve snowfall. Two years later, he built an improved model with drive wheels ten feet in diameter, which proved to be capable of sustained, reliable performance at speeds up to twelve miles per hour.
Others were also working on steam propulsion in Germany, Denmark, Sweden, France, and the United States. The Evans vehicle, the “oruktor amphibolos” referred to earlier, was thirty feet long and weighed fifteen tons. It was really intended for dredging the harbor and was the world’s first amphibious conveyance. On it first run in 1804, it clanked along on huge iron wheels, frightening Philadelphia onlookers out of their skivvies, before entering the Schuylkill River, where its propulsive energy was converted to a stern paddle wheel. Another American inventor, Richard Dudgeon, was experimenting with steam-mobiles. One was destroyed in a fire in 1858 in the famous Crystal Palace in New York City; another, built about ten years later, was banned from the streets by the civic leaders. Britain actually was where the steamers made their greatest impact. By the 1830s, they had set up a limited network which provided both passenger and freight service to a handful of cities. The public was awed, amused, and sometimes bitter. Some complained that the road steamers were noisy, which they were; and some complained that they were dangerous, which was occasionally true. But, as is natural, the loudest complaints came from vested interests, horse-drawn vehicles and railroads, who were afraid of losing business. Because of the pressure, in 1865, the British Parliament adopted the “Red Flag Act,” which limited steamers to a speed of four miles an hour on the open road and to two miles an hour in the city. It required a crew of three men: one walking sixty yards ahead, with a red flag by day and a lantern at night, to warn of the vehicle’s approach. Stymied by these restrictions, several British engineers turned their thoughts and attention to electricity as a promising alternative to steam. One can imagine that the automobile may have progressed very differently if not for these restrictions.
It takes courage to effect revolutionary changes of any kind, and there were some formidable tinkerers in the horse-drawn carriage, nineteenth century; men like William Murdock, William Henry James, William Symington, Sir Goldsworthy Gurney and Walter Hancock, Charles Dallery, Etienne Lenoir, Amedee Bollee-Pere, Siegfried Marcus, Thomas Blanchard, William Janes, Nathan Read, Apollos Kinsey, Sylvester Roper, Carl Benz, and Gottlieb Daimler.
The first electric-powered road vehicle is believed to have been built in Scotland about 1839 by Robert Anderson, but it, along with others within the next several years, were generally unsuccessful. The steamer had to wait for a boiler to build up pressure and was very noisy besides. The concept of an electrical engine that could start immediately and run quietly was very attractive at that time. There were disadvantages, however. Electric batteries were heavy, bulky, unreliable, and needed recharging after a short run. In 1880, there was a general improvement in the development of longer-lasting batteries. There still existed, however, excessive weight and bulk of the batteries and a need for frequent rechargings, although electric cabs appeared on the streets of London in the late 1800s.
Steamers and electric vehicles gained only restricted acceptance on the continent as well. In France, the electric had a shining, brief hour of public acclaim when Camille Jenatzy, driving a Jeantaud electric, pushed the cigar-shaped vehicle to a record of sixty miles per hour on April 29, 1899. The high-speed run, however, burned out the specially fabricated batteries and the interest in electrics died almost as soon as the cheers of the attending public.
It was in America that steamers and electric cars gained their most sustained measure of success. Eventually twenty different U.S. car companies would produce electrics; and in the peak of popularity, 1912, nearly 35,000 were operating on American roads. But even America could not shake the limitations of the bulky batteries and the short ranges between recharging. Steamers were actually more popular. More than 100 American plants were making steamers, the most famous of which were the Stanley brothers factory in Newton, Massachusetts. The “Stanley Steamer” had the affectionate nickname, “The Flying Teapot,” and with good reason. In 1906, a Stanley Steamer was clocked at 127.6 miles per hour on the sands of Ormond Beach, Florida. In spite of this, the steamers, along with the electrics, were only living on borrowed time. Experiments were being made on an automobile powered by a gasoline-fueled, internal-combustion engine, and the steamers and electrics would not survive the impact of the coming collision.
Internal-combustion automobiles did not just burst forth on the scene all of a sudden to crowd the electrics and steamers off the road. The theories of internal-combustion engines had been on the way ever since 1860, when Etienne Lenoir applied to the authorities in Paris for a patent on his invention, an internal-combustion engine powered by coal gas. Two years later, Lenoir hooked his engine to a carriage, and, although it was crude, it worked. It worked so poorly and so slowly (about one mile an hour), however, that he became discouraged and abandoned his efforts.
In 1864, a resourceful Austrian in Vienna, Siegfried Marcus, built a one-cylinder engine that incorporated a crude carburetor and a magneto arrangement to create successive small explosions that applied alternating pressure against the piston within the cylinder. Bolting his engine to a cart, Siegfried geared the piston to the rear wheels, and while a strong assistant lifted the rear of the cart off the ground, Siegfried started the engine. The wheels began to turn and continued to turn with each successive “pop.” Marcus signaled the assistant to lower the cart and watched it burp along for about 500 feet before it ran out of fuel. Ten years later, he built the new, improved version of his motorcar, and then, mysteriously washed his hands of the entire thing, saying it was a waste of time. (The second model, which is preserved in an Austrian museum, was refurbished and taken for a test run in Vienna in 1950. It reached a top speed of ten miles per hour on level ground.)
Although Lenoir and Marcus did not have the grit and determination to pursue their enterprises, they made some valuable contributions to the theory of internal-combustion engines. It would be overstating the case to credit them with the creation of the internal-combustion automobile, however.
Get A Horse!
The proud owner of a new horseless carriage often loaded his family into the machine while the neighbors ogled with envy. Invariably, the budding driver would over-dramatize the ritual of donning his gloves, checking his equipment, and cranking the engine into sputtering, back-firing action, while onlookers held their ears. With heads held high, the driver and passengers would then begin their baptismal trek into the country, beaming with arrogant satisfaction. They would take the way which would lead them past the “right people,” of course. If ever there was a “thrill of a lifetime,” this was it. But such were the ways of life in those days that such joyous beginnings didn’t always have a happy ending.
Somewhere along the way, the tiny engine would start to cough and sputter. The driver would assure his frightened passengers that there was nothing to worry about, but the mechanical hiccuping continued. The driver’s assurances would waiver, and when the motor finally died, the ego-deflated owner suffered the pangs of the damned. When no amount of tinkering, kicking, or cursing would revive the engine, the humiliating trip to the nearest farm would have to take place. The farmer would probably be glad to add to the driver’s mental anguish by making remarks about “them new-fangled contraptions,” but with some degree of stability, he would harness his team and hitch it to the front of the horseless carriage.
Now gone were the proud airs; mother and daughter blushed with shame as they were towed back homeward past their snickering neighbors. Young sons usually enjoyed the experience, but father was ready to explode. The team of horses, as slow, expensive, and old-fashioned as they were, got the final horse laugh. It seems right, somehow, that the term “horse-power” has continued to be a measurement of the automobile’s mechanical muscle. The animal has certainly contributed so much to civilization that it needs some lasting remembrance with the vehicle which unceremoniously dumped it from public favor. The horse was not just replaced, he was caught up in a competitive situation which saw him maligned by copyrighters, ridiculed by a new strain of high-powered merchants, called auto dealers, and he was even attacked by health authorities, who saw the motor car as an end of manure heaps, disease-toting flies, and assorted other pollution.
Anyone who has ever walked down-wind of a livery stable knows that the horse had an aromatic drawback. It was also easy for the sly advertiser to win over a public, who was plagued with a need for sticky flypaper, insect traps, and foul-smelling sprays. No one envisioned that the motor car would be all health and happiness, either, but the economic argument was hammered home by automobile publicists. They pointed out that each horse in the U.S. required the production of five acres of land and twenty man-days of work per year. Ransom E. Olds, writing in “Scientific American” before 1900, took an swing at the horse when he advertised a new steam carriage: “It never kicks or bites, never tires on long runs, and never sweats in hot weather. It does not require care in the stable and eats only while on the road.” William A. White, a famed editor and horse-lover, wrote, “…he makes no claim to speed, but his carburetor always works, and while he has but two cylinders, he brings his guests back in one piece at home rather than downtown at the undertaker’s to be assembled by total strangers…”
Stories of runaways, overturned buggies and other accidents due to horses were widely exaggerated and overdramatized. Of 476 equine accidents, analyzed by a prominent magazine, only two were reportedly caused because the horses involved were frightened by automobiles. This statistical whitewash was to refute the common complaint that motor cars were scaring otherwise good, tame horses. The anti-horse faction, always looking for new ammunition, made the most of a vicious heat wave which hit New York City in July of 1911. About 1,200 horses dropped dead of heat exposure, and it was quickly pointed out that motor cars and trucks continued to function without difficulty or detriment to the health of the populace. The once overwhelming notes of rebuttal began to flag, and in spite of the fact that there were 25,000,000 horses in the country in 1912, Dobbin was definitely “out,” and the “Betsy” was “in.”
This transition from a centuries-old form of land transportation to one of automobiles was not easy, and it did not just happen in a day or two. The horse was, after all, an important part of the economy. Feed and veterinary bills amounted to millions of dollars each year. The Chicago Times reported that horseshoes in 1915 required enough iron to build 60,000 motor cars. Harness makers, buggy-whip companies, carriage builders, livery stable operators, blacksmiths, an army of street cleaners, wheelwrights and even hitching-post manufacturers were all affected by the technological development of automobiles. These companies had to either re-tool and adapt to the industry or face the realities of a declining business.
The coming of WWI spurred the production of motor vehicles, and also upped the need for horses and mules. After the signing of Armistice, however, the final turning point came. From then on, it was really downhill for the horse – not into oblivion, fortunately, but to a minor role of race tracks, rodeos, show rings, riding clubs, and Wild West movies. The horse retired to greener pastures (or to the glue factory) and became only a legend in transportation and agriculture.
It’s Just Another Statistic
From the very first, automobiles have attracted each other like magnets, even when there were only two in the same town. The first incident (or accident) occurred when horse met car. The car-haters over-dramatized the runaways and foretold all sorts of catastrophes for the future. On the other hand, the motorists blamed it on the horses and predicted a great new day of personal transportation. Each side had an element of truth. There was no question that the automobile was a boon to mankind, but it was also to prove to be a killer of people, a destroyer of property, and the accomplice of criminals.
Even in the beginning of the automobile age, when numbers were few and bad roads limited the amount of traffic, deaths due to accidents in automobiles began to mount. Before the U.S. entered WWI, auto accidents had killed more than 36,000 Americans. By comparison, only 22,424 had lost their lives in the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican War, and the Spanish-American War combined. This trend to kill more people with cars than with weapons worsened as the years rolled by.
Before the turn of the century, anti-horseless carriage sentiments began to express themselves in restrictive regulations. In the late 1890s, Louis Greenough and Harry Adams of Pierre, South Dakota, built a homemade car out of an Elkhart wagon and a two-cylinder Wolverine gas motor, hoping to haul passengers at the county fair. They were not only denied permission to haul passengers, the authorities would not even let them bring their contraption inside the city limits. Automobiles were banned in the streets of many cities: Boston, Chicago and Bar Harbor, Maine, to name a few. In Massachusetts, an act to require that all cars be equipped with a bell which would ring with each wheel revolution was voted down, as was one for shooting off roman candles to warn of the vehicle’s approach. There were laws that required motorists to stop completely while buggies, surreys and freight wagons dragged by. Speed limits as low as two and three mile per hour were imposed by a few cities and towns. In some, night-time driving was prohibited. In 1907, Glencoe, Illinois, built humps in the streets to discourage speeding. Three years earlier, they had stretched a steel cable across the road to stop the “devil wagons.” Most of this was antagonism rather than an attempt to accomplish constructive regulations.
While the jumble of confusing ordinances continued to plague pioneer motorists, a new wrinkle was added: the “speed trap.” In smaller towns, particularly, marshals and other law officials lay in wait for unsuspecting drivers, timing them by stop-watch or “by guess and by gosh.” Some lawmen were authorized to shoot at tires or to stretch chains or wire across the road. Until the motorcycle became a police vehicle, the local sheriff’s office was somewhat limited in their pursuit of fleeing cars, since they were either on foot or on bicycles.
Motorists tried to find ways to defend themselves. One way was by organization, and in 1902, the American Automobile Association was formed in Chicago to take up the pennant for the motor car operator. That same year, the city passed an ordinance prohibiting the driver of a car to wear “pince-nez” glasses. The A.A.A. proved to be a good watchdog for its members as it fostered realistic regulations and fought against abusive police action, especially the common practice of arresting owners of expensive cars on the premise that such people could afford to pay a stiffer fine.
In the middle of this confusion, there seemed to be no stemming the growing tide of accidents. It was a case of simple arithmetic; more cars meant more collisions. With each year, too, the autos were made faster and more powerful. Narrow roads with no shoulders and sharp, unbanked curves simply couldn’t accommodate speed runs, and from the beginning, auto owners have had the desire to “see how fast she’ll go.” Gradually, the automobile was accepted as a permanent fixture, and traffic regulations shifted from anti-car priority to that of anti-accident.
On October 13, 1913, The National Council for Industrial Safety opened a three-room headquarters in Chicago. The original emphasis had been on the “industrial,” but in that year, the Public Safety Commission of Chicago and Cook County reported that in July, twenty people had been killed by automobiles, eighteen of them children. The commission launched an education program – with leaflets and slides – in the schools and parks, and the new NCIS realized that the motor car would have to be the subject of its most intense study. In 1914, the organization’s name was changed to The National Safety Council, and it began to the compile statistics on automobile accidents. From 1913, when the death toll was 4,000, or 4.4% of a 100,000 population, it rose, in 1930, to 32,900, or 26.7%.
The desire to “do something about it” was growing among Americans everywhere; but the urge to find unfettered freedom in a fast car was even stronger. In 1914, Detroit installed a manually-operated stop-and-go sign. In August that year an electrical traffic signal was put in operation at 105th and Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio. The Ford Motor Company gave each car purchaser a card reminding him to “Stop, Look, and Listen,” at all railroad crossings. Magazines and newspaper articles carried “don’t drink and drive” cartoons; this cooled off during the prohibition when “nobody” was drinking. But bootleggers, in their big touring cars, and the bathtub gin guzzlers, in their sporty rumble seat models, continued to add to the highway toll.
In 1924, the National Conference on Street and Highway Safety, whose chairman was the Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover, authorized a committee to draft a uniform motor vehicle code for all forty-eight states. Two years later, the laws were presented and adopted by the second conference. The individual states didn’t move so quickly, and some adopted the package in their own time, but a standardized code of laws was a major achievement of effective nation-wide traffic regulations.
Die-hard horse-lovers saw the entire development with an “I told you so” attitude. They knew that the nation was going to suffer for its folly in permitting roads to be over-run with those mechanical contraptions. They were snickering in the wilderness, however. The automobile had a solid footing in America, and no amount of finger pointing could make it go away. Men began to feel that buying a car was like taking a bride, you just have to take what you get, for better or for worse.
Lenoir and Marcus had shown the feasibility of the internal-combustion engines, but both lacked faith in their own enterprises and abandoned their efforts. Closest to the mark in the judgment of historians is another pair of inventors who had faith in the future of the motorcar as well as in themselves. They worked doggedly (and unbeknownst to each other) to find the missing pieces of a puzzle that had been plaguing automotive inventors through the years: how to propel the horseless carriage.
Carl Freidrich Benz and Gottlich Wilhelm Daimler worked separately (and at almost the same moment) in Germany; each designing and building the world’s first commercially successful cars. These are, for all intents and purposes, the direct linear antecedents of the modern automobile.
Benz’s first creation was not very impressive, either in design nor in initial road test. It was a fragile, carriage-like three-wheeler with tubular framework, mounted on a Benz-designed, one-horsepower, one-cylinder engine. The engine was a refinement of the four-stroke engine designed by Nikolaus Otto (another German), who had refined his from Lenoir’s two-stroke engine. Even though Benz’s creation was awkward and frail, it incorporated some essential elements that would characterize the modern vehicle: electrical ignition, differential, mechanical valves, carburetor, engine cooling system, oil and grease cups for lubrication, and a braking system. He obtained a patent on a “carriage with gasoline engine” in 1886.
About seventy-five miles from Carl Benz, Daimler worked diligently to design a better internal-combustion engine. He was satisfied that he had succeeded in 1833, when he took out a patent on what he believed was a more efficient, four-stroke, gasoline-fueled engine. He first mounted his engine on a sturdy bicycle, a two-wheeler, which ran satisfactorily on its test run in 1885. This was the prototype of the modern motorcycle. In 1887, Daimler, encouraged by this success and by experience, installed his engine in a four-wheeled, two-passenger vehicle. The engine had only a few more horsepower than Benz’s, but it was lighter and ran at a much higher speed – 900 rpm as compared to Benz’s 300 rpm. It was the first example of a high-speed, internal- combustion engine.
Daimler and Benz argued heatedly concerning each other’s claim to fame and prestige. Daimler insisted that he had successfully tested his engine on a bicycle before Benz had patented his tricycle and had, in any case, been the first to patent a four-wheeled car. Benz conceded that Daimler invented the motorcycle, but he insisted his tricycle was the first motorcar. These claims are still argued to this day by people who care; historians give both men a lot of credit: Daimler for his high-speed engine; Benz for the features of water cooling, electric ignition and differential gears. Benz and Daimler continued separately and competitively, to develop improved engines and refined vehicles to put them in. When Gottlich died in 1900, his company removed his name from the car he had created and affixed “Mercedes,” for Mercedes Jellinck, the daughter of an influential distributor who lived in France. In 1926, when Carl Benz was 82 (he lived three more years), the companies merged into one firm. These two inventive giants, who worked so hard and lived less than seventy-five miles apart, never met one another, but they poised the world for entry into the Automobile Age. Just as the 19th-century was making its way into the 20th, the world was little inclined to be led in the direction of automobiles – except for those who had money enough to indulge their fancies, and in France, where motorcar production was beginning to assume some significant economical measures.
The wide boulevards of Paris, and the fine paved roads radiating out of the French capital, were ideal settings for rich sportsmen to show off their noisy toys. By 1895, there were so many self-propelled vehicles puttering around the city that the French Academy coined a new word to the French language to describe them. The word was “automobile.”
One of the first vehicles to be officially designated an automobile was a car which is now considered to be the real prototype of modern cars. It was a Daimler-powered vehicle built in 1892 by the Parisian carriage-making firm, Panhard and Levassor. The “Panhard” marked the appearance of the automobile’s classic design: engine in front, supplying power to a gearbox behind it; gearbox connected by chain drive to the rear drive wheels. It had four forward speeds and a reverse, and an 1894 model made headlines when it covered a 750-mile distance from Paris to Rouen in forty-eight hours at an average speed of fifteen miles per hour.
Is It A Car? Is It A Plane? No, It’s A Bicycle!
Although the first automobiles were called “horseless carriages,” and they were, indeed, little more than motorized versions of horse-drawn vehicles, the automobile owes much more to the bicycle than it does to the buggy. It has been explained in a prior chapter that Daimler tested his high-speed engine on a bicycle and developed the world’s first motorcycle. Bicyclists, too, generated the first movement for good roads and set the stage for motoring in America.
Automotive advancement in America was hampered by the need of roads. Bicyclists, however, generated a national good roads movement in the early 1890s, which culminated with the establishment of the U.S. Office of Road Inquiry under the Department of Agriculture in 1893. This later evolved into the Bureau of Public Roads.
In fact, the American bicycle industry of the 1890s is really a sponsor of the automobile industry. Many pioneers in automotives were men who were experienced in manufacturing bicycles. Charles and Frank Duryea introduced the first successful American internal- combustion engine in 1893. Charles was a skilled bicycle mechanic. Alexander Winston, a bicycle manufacturer, made the first American high-performance car in 1897, a twelve-horsepower model that tested out at 33.7 miles per hour. Henry Ford, a tinkerer, used many bicycle parts, including a saddle, on his first “quadricyle” in 1896. There were twenty-seven American bicycle manufacturers in 1890, and many of these played significant roles in the development of the automobile. The Pope Manufacturing Company opened a motor-carriage department in 1897 to produce Columbia cars, using the popularity of their Columbia bicycles as a sales incentive. Another manufacturer, Rambler bicycles, was so successful with their Rambler automobiles that they concentrated solely on the cars and stopped producing bicycles altogether.
The first car manufacturers were dependent on the bicycle firms for many of the parts they needed: lightweight tubing, gears, chain drives, ball and roller bearings, wire wheels, pneumatic tires, tools, and sometimes, even the space in which they needed to work. The first car dealers were also recruited and converted from the bicycle dealers. The best place to buy a really fine car at the turn of the century was at the local bicycle shop.
The greatest legend in the American automobile development is the common belief that the car is an American institution. The American car inventors were really Johnny-come-latelys, when it came to producing the automobile, but once they got going, they made up for all the centuries of lost time.
Although the automobile was becoming an increasingly familiar sight in Europe in the 1890s, it was considered a freakish contraption in the United States. Roads were poor and few. Americans finally became receptive to the idea of the automobile when they realized that, with a car, they could go where they wanted to go without having to use the railroad.
Detroit is not the original forge where the U.S. auto industry took shape: Hartford, Cleveland, and at least a dozen other places have better credentials. Many men and hundreds of hours of creating, designing, and hard work went into the creation of American cars. Several crude, experimental motorized buggies had been built in the U.S. before the Duryea brothers built the first successful, internal-combustion car in 1892-93.
A carriage maker in Flint, Michigan, William C. Durant designed a motorcar and went on to organize Buick, General Motors, and Chevrolet. George M. Pierce made bird cages, bicycles and finally, automobiles–Pierce-Arrows. Charles W. Nash made the Nash. In 1954 the Nash Kelvinator Corp. merged with the Hudson Motor Car Company to become the American Motors Corporation.
Car designers came from all areas and occupations. Some succeeded, but most failed. Then, along came the son of a Michigan farmer. His name was Henry Ford.
In 1879, Henry Ford was sixteen years old when he got a job in Detroit. In his spare time he built an internal-combustion engine from plans he found in a magazine. It was a bicycle-wheeled, tiller-steered two-seater, without brakes or reverse gear. It was so noisy that it was condemned by the public as a nuisance.
In 1898, he built an improved vehicle, but it failed in a year. Finally he produced an automobile that was bigger, more powerful, and much faster. A well-known bicycle rider drove the car in a race and won. The publicity got Ford financial backing.
The first popular car was a roadster, the “Oldsmobile,” designed as an economy car by Ransom E. Olds. This car had two seats and a one-cylinder, three-horsepower engine.
In 1900, only 8,000 cars were registered in the U.S. Olds introduced quantity production, and became a very rich man. The car sold for $650, about half the price of competitors. Sales zoomed from 425 in 1901, to 6,500 in 1905.
Henry Ford founded the Ford Motor Company in 1903. Ford first brought out the Model A: a small, two cylinder car with an eight- horsepower engine, which sold for $850. The next year, the Model B Ford was added, a four-cylinder, which sold for $2,000. In 1906, Ford added the Model K, an important milestone. In 1906, New York held two auto shows. In Madison Square Garden, there were 220 exhibits; the 69th Regiment Armory show had 205 exhibitors. Ford’s Model K, introduced at Madison Square Garden, was big, heavy, expensive and a mistake. It could go 60 mph with its six-cylinder, 40-horsepower engine. It sold for $2,800, $2,000 more than a Cadillac. Ford lost money on every one sold, so he concentrated on a light, simple, rugged model that could be sold inexpensively; what he termed “the universal automobile.”
The new design was called the Model T. Adapted from the model N, it was solidly constructed, and easy to operate and repair. Its chassis was high to provide good clearance. A four-cylinder engine produced 20-horsepower in two forward speeds and a reverse. In 1909, the least expensive Model T got about thirty miles to the gallon. Customers responded to the advantages of the Model T, and new, plants were constructed. Production increased from 10,000 in 1909 to 78,000 in 1912. In 1913, Ford found a better, faster way to build cars.
In 1914, Ford opened the world’s first auto assembly line. Production jumped to 472,000; a car could be turned out in 93 minutes. In 1924, when half of the cars in the world were Fords, the Model T sold for $290 and profits piled up. The last “tin lizzy” (the 15,007,003rd) rolled off the production line in 1927. It was truly the “universal car,” in every corner of the world.
The eighteen-year supremacy of the Ford caused the disappearance of many of the smaller car companies and the emergence of others. One of the consolidators was the General Motors Corporation. William C. Durant bought out the Buick Motor Company in 1904. He incorporated General Motors in 1908 and merged Buick, Cadillac, Oldsmobile and Oakland (Pontiac) into a single corporation. Ford’s monopoly ended after WWI; other manufacturers began to make cheaper, more attractive cars. In 1916, the Chevrolet Motor Company put out a four-cylinder model that eventually passed the Ford as the best-selling car in America.
Another strong competitor of the Model T was a tough four-cylinder Dodge manufactured by John and Horace Dodge. By 1924, they assembled 1,000 cars per day. Four years later the company was purchased for what was then a world’s record price of $175,000,000 by Walter P. Chrysler, of the Chrysler Corporation. In 1928 the Chrysler Corporation started selling Dodges, DeSotos Plymouths, and Chryslers.
By 1928, competition had forced new standard equipment. The self- starter was invented in 1911, resulting in more drivers. The car had gone from a wooden, open vehicle to a steel, fully enclosed year-round sedan. The modern automobile was mechanically “complete” by 1929, when 4,587,400 cars were sold in the United States. All the major mechanical developments since then have been improvements or refinements of existing systems.
Henry Ford did not create the automobile nor the automobile industry. When he built his first internal-combustion engine from magazine plans in 1896 and mounted it in a carriage, others had already built better motor vehicles than his crude attempt. Those others must yield the stage to Henry Ford in one aspect; it was he who captained the manufacturing revolution. He jacked up the world and slid four wheels under it. He said he would democratize the automobile and when he was through, just about everyone would have a car. He kept his word. Life would never be the same again.
Name It and It’s Yours
By 1911 the automobile industry had come into its own. Securities of automotive companies were listed in the New York Stock Exchange. The Ford Motor Company had been formed, and by 1908 had introduced the historic Model T. The Buick Motor Company, the Olds Motor Works, the Cadillac Automobile Company and the Oakland Motor Car Company had already achieved individual success – and had been combined with other firms by William Crapo Durant into the General Motors Company. Durant then lost control of the organization and moved on to another career, building and selling a new automobile, which had been designed by and named for Louis Chevrolet, a French race driver. Another promoter, Benjamin Briscoe, had brought together some 130 companies to create the United States Motor Car Corporation. This ambitious merger soon ran into financial difficulties and ran into receivership in 1912. Michigan, and especially Detroit, were now established as centers of automobile production. The general public took to motorized vehicles like moths to a flame. While the heads of companies were inventing, merging, maneuvering, suing, counter-suing, promoting, failing, or amassing fantastic wealth, curious Americans from Oregon to Maine were interested enough to open their wallets. Dealerships were set up in livery stables, blacksmith shops and general stores in the largest cities and in the smaller towns. Some of the mechanically-minded individuals assembled their own vehicles, while others turned to their favorite source of supply for anything – the Sears, Roebuck catalog – to order a motor buggy “so safe that a child could run it.”
Many of those who contributed to the automotive industry have faded from memory and into historic oblivion (or those whose ideas were stolen, into oblivion itself). Others have been engraved into automobile history on nameplates. Walter Chrysler, Louis Chevrolet, David Dunbar Buick, Ransom E. Olds, Henry Ford, John and Horace Dodge, The White, Mack, and Duesenberg brothers have not been forgotten. John Mohler Studebaker, John North Willys, Harry Stutz, William Crapo Durant, Edwin Ross Thomas, Francis and Freelan Stanley, Johathan Dixon Maxwell, Charles W. Nash, James Ward Packard, Thomas B. Jeffery, E. L. Cord, George N. Pierce, Albert Augustus Pope, Howard C. Marmon and others like them have a niche in the automotive annuals because their names graced the automobiles and radiator caps of their era.
Only an avid hobbyist or automotive historian is familiar with the pioneers like H. Bartol Brazier of Philadelphia; J. L. Cato of San Francisco; Dan J. Piscorski of St. Louis, Missouri; W. H. Kiblinger of Auburn, Indiana; Percy L. Klock of New York; F. J. Fanning of Chicago; C. Clarence Holden of Comanche, Texas; or J. A. Moncrieff of Pawtucket, Rhode Island. They had cars named for them as well, but for some reason, the vehicles failed to catch on and their creators were ground into the oils of automotive history by more popular models.
In 1904, Graham Fisher and James A. Allison organized the Prest-O- Lite Company and introduced a new system of acetylene gas headlights. In 1908, the year of the Model T, C. Harold Wills developed the use of vanadium steel for Ford. At the same time, Charles Y. Knight was perfecting his sleeve-valve engine, and the Fischer brothers founded a company which was to gain fame as a producer of closed auto bodies. Scientific experimentation of Charles Franklin Kettering of the Dayton Engineering Laboratories Company helped bring about such innovations as the electric starter and ethyl gasoline. Harvey S. Firestone, B. F. Goodrich, Arthur W. Grand and others worked with rubber to overcome deficiencies in tire construction. Edward G. Budd, a young Philadelphia engineer, is credited with the idea for all-steel bodies for automobiles. Before this time, many of the manufacturers had been carriage makers and used the same techniques and designs they had previously used for horse-drawn vehicles. The heat of early-day motors caused wood to warp and weakened the glue which held it together. Rough roads made joints give way so that the automobile creaked and groaned. Budd left a good job to pursue his idea with his own company; in 1912, he finally convinced the Oakland and Hupmobile people to try his all-steel body frames, and the next year he received his first large contract from John and Horace Dodge.
Arthur O. Smith, the son of a Milwaukee blacksmith and bicycle parts manufacturer, shifted his interests from bicycles to the new-fangled horseless carriage. He sold his first pressed steel frames to the Peerless Motor Company early in the 20th century and when other auto builders became interested, he offered a house and lot to a foreman who could increase his production to twelve frames per day. It was then that he was visited by Henry Ford. Ford ordered 10,000 Model T frames for delivery in four months; a challenge that was accepted, and by 1921, the A. O. Smith Corporation was capable of producing Ford’s first order in a single day.
Hundreds of ideas have come from unknown mechanics who achieved neither fame nor pay for their contributions. The automobile, as it progressed, was a product of many hands, of revolutionary concepts, and of simple, almost unnoticed upgrading. In the end, the one who received the most for these challenges and changes was the motorist, whose interest, money, and enthusiasm have forced the auto-moguls to upgrade, perfect, and add to previous achievements in order to stay in the competition.
The Cadillac is named after the man who, in the 1700’s, founded Detroit. His name was Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac.
The Social Impact of The Automobile
Once the world climbed into the driver’s seat and stepped on the gas, it hardly ever looked back. Art Buchwald wrote, “Americans are broad- minded people. They’ll accept the fact that a person can be an alcoholic, a dope fiend, a wife beater, and even a newspaperman, but if a man doesn’t drive there’s something wrong with him.” Automobiles became more than just toys for the rich, they became a part of day-to-day living in, from, and to the work place. And it is in America that the long ride has been the zippiest, the zestiest, and the zaniest, because it is in America that automobiles started a social revolution almost as revolutionary as that of the motorized industry itself.
One of the first social changes cars brought about was in mating habits. It didn’t take young people in America long to realize that there was a lot more they could accomplish in a backseat than on the front porch. Besides, it would be more private and a good deal more comfortable. Motorized courtship had been established even before the Model T offered a love nest within everyone’s price range. Gus Edwards’ popular “In My Merry Oldsmobile” contained two very provocative lines: “You can go as far as you like with me, In our merry Oldsmobile.” Ford’s Model T just gave the merry Oldsmobile an enormous amount of company at prices the common person could afford. In 1944, John Steinbeck noted in “Cannery Row”: “Most of the babies of the era were conceived in the Model T Ford, and not a few were born in them.” And it wasn’t just in America.
A survey of 6,000 British girls by the London “Woman” revealed that half of them regularly make love in parked cars. In Los Angeles, a business called “Tail Dating” became popular. The motorist paid a fee to receive a bumper sticker in popular day-glo colors. If one driver spots another car on the road with a driver that sparks his or her interest, and also sports the bumper sticker, the license number can be phoned in to “Tail Dating” to set up a meeting. The automobile manufacturers had no qualms about using sex appeal to sell their product. In 1924, a Jordan firm named one of its models the “Playboy.” Its ad campaign showed a handsome cowboy and a beautiful girl driving “somewhere West of Laramie.” A Brewster used the same tactics when they produced a heart-shaped radiator grille. Some car companies turned out models with seats that folded down to become a double bed. Things haven’t really changed much, except the fold-down seat has become a more comfortable van with all the luxuries of a motel.
Automobiles opened up the possibility of farm children going to town schools, where they were provided with better facilities and greater educational choices. It also gave farm communities the ability to shop at will, rather than once or twice a year. Town was within shopping range and there were also clubs, theaters, and numerous other activities that the average farm family had previously been denied. If one got tired of it, he could always get back to the quiet of the country.
The feminists’ movement, which had been dragging its feet ever since the 1820s, had a rapid growth from the automobile. In 1898, Genevra Delphine Mudge drove a Waverly Electric in New York to become the nation’s first known female motorist. The following year she became the country’s first female racing driver by competing in a Locomobile in a New York race meet. She skidded into five people standing on the sidelines, knocking them down, but not seriously hurting them. She’s now only a footnote in automotive history as the first American woman to have an automobile accident. It was also in 1898 that Chicago began requiring licenses in order to drive, and one of the first to be licensed was a woman. The Women’s Motoring Club of New York was chartered before Henry Ford had even begun to produce the Model T. In 1909, the president, Alice Ramsey, and three members left New York in an open-bodied Maxwell-Briscoe and drove to San Francisco in 59 days. Women were not a real part of the automotive scene, however, until
Henry Leland produced a self-starter in a 1912 Cadillac. Eliminating the physical strain of hand-cranking, he removed a large physical bar from women drivers and, perhaps, men as well, since he was prompted to this creation because his friend died of injuries he had received from the kickback of a hand crank.
The automobile gave America a new look and something new to look at as well. Escaping railroad schedules and the fixed routes of public transportation, Americans could go wherever and whenever they wanted and stay or leave at will. They took advantage of this opportunity by the thousands. Overcrowded hotels and stage stops developed into road-side cabins and then courts and finally, into motels for the convenience of the motorist who was on his way to someplace else and only needed a stopover to rest for the night.
Businesses looked around and saw the multitude on cars on the roads and followed after them. First there were a smattering of service stations; then they spread across the country like insects as more and more people owned wheels. Every junction of the road had a gas station, and eventually they were on each corner of the junction. The speed of the vehicles picked up sharply and station owners were soon watching them fly by to the next stop, so they started building eye-catching structures, and because man does not live on gasoline alone, they erected diners and cabins and assorted other roadside businesses, which now provide everything from swimming pools and paper, disposable swim suits to breath sprays.
Some salute the car for improving the American breed by providing such extended mating territories. This may be argued, but the car surely did alter the pattern of movement. People began to leave the beaten path, which had previously been unknown. The car introduced a country to itself, enabling travelers to discover and to understand regional differences and common values.
The placid beauty of the open road and the changing scenery began to be spoiled by old tires, food wrappings, pop and beer bottles (and then cans), by bodies of animals who could not outrun the charging vehicle, by deserted service buildings and finally, by road signs designed to catch the motorist`s eye several miles ahead of his arrival, so that he had time to consider stopping before he had already sped past.
One advertising man instituted the now famous Burma Shave jingles, which were spaced out to match the speed of the traffic. Tourist cabins were upgraded into more lavish courts, and then into motels. Diners began to improve and highway food chains made an appearance with some control over menu and sanitary conditions.
Unfortunately, the lure of money brings all kinds of money makers, some of them not so desirable: beer joints, hot dog stands, “wild animal” shows, fortune tellers, souvenir shops, and now automobile scrap heaps lining the edges of every town and city. Signs became bigger and some were lighted in flashing neon.
People trying to get out of the congestion of the city fled in droves to the suburbs. Somehow they envied the farmer who could come in and shop and return to the solitude of the country. They breathed the fresh air and cooked on open grills, and talked about the country life, encouraging more people to move into the suburbs, all bringing their outdoor grills, lawn mowers, automobiles, boats, trailers, and other paraphrenalia, until there was eventually as many people in the suburbs as there were in the city. Then the “suburbanites” demanded some of the advantages of the city. They needed churches, schools, fire departments, markets, drugstores, hardware stores and gasoline stations, until there was soon as much congestion and stress as they had left behind. Shopping malls sprang up everywhere, serving everything from french fries to wedding gowns, and electric rails swept the population into the city in the morning and back to the suburbs in the evening. They finally began to realize that they had not escaped the city at all; they had merely moved to the “residential area.”
There being more people and, therefore, more money in the cities, it is natural that the first effects of the automobile should be felt there. In 1899, the Akron police threw away their horse-drawn paddy wagons and replaced them with motorized versions. In the same year, an enterprising citizen in Boston opened “a stable for renting, sale, storage, and repair of motor vehicles” – the country’s first garage. Curbs along the city streets began to furnish hand-cranked gasoline pumps, bringing an end to the dangerous practice of open containers in hardware stores, and the nation’s first regular service station opened in Pittsburgh in 1913, an all night drive-in that began slowly but soon picked up a lot of business.
The first automobile showroom opened in New York City in 1900 and these were soon found in all city centers all over the country. The used car lot followed shortly after for those who would surrender the class and gloss of a new car for a much smaller price.
It had been the custom for companies to display their goods on the cash-on-the-barrelhead basis, unless it was a major purchase, such as a piano, which could be bought on an installment plan. In 1911, the Studebaker Company offered automobiles on a deferred payment plan. This was soon followed (in some cases, reluctantly) by other car companies. In less than ten years, 50% of all cars sold in America were bought on time payments. Other businesses, seeing the powerful draw this had on consumers, also started selling their merchandise on the installment plan (what the Britishers term “the never-never”), putting almost all of America “on the books.”
Cities now had to face the problem of traffic and traffic jams, as more and more people became car owners. Traffic policemen were soon organized, and in 1914, Cleveland installed the first traffic light, and soon there became a need for traffic management. There is always someone standing in the wings, waiting to find a way to make a buck. As the load of traffic became heavier and parking space limited, parking garages were built to care for the overflow; then the unadorned parking lot was installed. In 1935, city officials discovered that there was money to be made in this, and came up with parking meters.
The Great Depression of 1929 gave the nation a thorough understanding of just how important the automobile had become. People began to realize that cars were not just a convenience that would take them from here to there a little faster: they were a fixation, part of the body and soul of everyday life. No matter how poor and needy those in the depression became, they would not give up their cars. If forced to choose between gasoline and beans, the average man may decide the gasoline was more important. Replacement parts were scavenged and repairs were improvised from whatever could be found. Will Rogers said that Americans would be the first people to go to the poor house in an automobile.
In 1924, an innkeeper in California put up a flashing sign that was to spread across the nation. He combined hotel and motor to coin the word, “motel.” At the same time, in Florida, businesses began to bow to the motorists needs by establishing curb service dining with bell hops, so that the driver would not even need to leave his car. They coined the word, “drive-in.” The government (always the last to act) installed curbside mailboxes, equipped with chutes angled out to receive letters. These were first put up in Houston in 1927. In Camden, New Jersey, on June 6, 1933, the first drive-in movie was shown in a field large enough to hold 500 cars on a 40 x 50 foot screen. At their peak, there were more than 4,000 drive-in movies across America.
Thanks to drive-ins, we now have the privilege of sitting in our cars to do everything. We can draw money from the bank account, have our prescriptions filled, pay utility bills, have clothes cleaned, have film developed, return library books, or buy a bottle of wine. Dallas has a drive-through pawn shop, where you can sell whatever is worth anything to drive straight to the gas station and fill up. There are some drive-through supermarkets. In some cities, church-goers can pick up their drive-through breakfasts and continue down the road to attend drive-in worship services. There are at least two cities that furnish drive-through funeral parlors. The automobile has become an inbred necessity to life in America, thanks to Henry Ford’s assembly lines and his “universal automobile.”
Did Anyone Get That License Number?
After the end of WWII, teenagers, trying to find their individualism, made their cars into hot rods, low-riders and high-riders. They put chrome on everything that would hold it, and painted everything that was paintable – often with florescent colors, and otherwise extended their efforts to make their car their “own.” Many people hung a pair of oversized dice from their mirror in an effort to show independence. Some displayed logos of their school or club. Then came the bumper sticker. The bumper sticker was first held on with wires and probably said, “Buy War Bonds.” After the war, the stickers actually began to stick. Probably due to our need to “do (or say) our own thing.” Nearly every car now has a message; some subtle, some clever, and some down-right obnoxious.
In 1901, Connecticut passed laws regulating the registration and speed of motor vehicles. That same year, New York state required “that every vehicle shall have the separate initials of the owner’s name placed upon the back thereof in a conspicuous place.” That was fine when there were only 954 cars involved, but when registrations increased, the variety of lettering and location of the initials was so great that the state amended the decree and required that assigned registration numbers be shown on plates or leather pads. The state collected a $1.00 fee and assigned the owner a number. He had to buy brass numerals, bolt them to a strip of leather, and attach his homemade tag to his car. In 1903, Massachusetts issued the first official state-made license plates, heavy porcelain-enameled white on dark blue tags. Other states followed suit with variations of metal, leather, wooden shingles, sheet metal and some do-it-yourself styles. The first state driver’s license laws were passed by Rhode Island in 1908 and then New Hampshire in 1909.
When the states took over the production of license plates, they used their prison population for the actual work – rehabilitating their inmates for a position for which there was no job on the outside.
In 1937, Connecticut offered the first “vanity tags.” Other states, seeing an opportunity to get more money for no more service, followed suit. They soon found that personalized license plates could become a giant problem. Just a few letters, chosen by some clever motorist, could produce an embarrassing sentiment to the issuing office. After a few incidents, they hired staff to carefully review each request so that it would not reflect badly on the state. It is now prestigious to buy a license plate or “Vanity tag” in order to display a personal message. These, as the car itself once was, are symbols of status.
Losing tags to a thief is not unusual. Authorities report that these prestige license plates are being stolen in increasing numbers. To make matters worse, motorists are discovering that it doesn’t pay to be too smart. The more clever and creative a tag is, the more apt it is to be stolen. On the other hand, the owner may derive some pleasure and comfort from this implied salute to his creativity.
Drive It Or Park It!
By the 1970s, it was clear that the thrill had disappeared for some of us. At last America’s love affair with the automobile was cooling and it was now just a marriage of convenience. Some would still say that nothing has changed; that America still loves the automobile, in spite of social observers who might say that love of a machine is a sickness. It’s just that the automobile can now be seen for what it was intended to be in the first place: something to get us from point A to point B in a faster, more comfortable way. We understand now that the car is just another mechanical appliance. We also understand the price we pay in having that appliance for convenience: we must cope with inflated prices from car companies, petroleum producers, and special interest lobbies; we must also cope with an environment which has been degraded, as well as with product unreliability that drains our pockets and consumes our time.
The numbers of cars are awesome in size. There are about 130,000,000 passenger cars on the streets and highways of the country. There are 40,000,000 other types of vehicles who vie with the automobiles for almost 4,000,000 miles of roadway. Consider Belgium, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Holland, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and West Germany – whose combined populations are about 40,000,000 more than that of the United States, and where automobiles are as available and affordable as they are in America; they also had cars before we did. In spite of this, there are 29,000,000 fewer cars in those countries combined than in the United States. America owns about 40% of all the motor vehicles in the world. Four of every ten American families own two or more vehicles.
Once every seven minutes, someone somewhere in New York, tired of fighting or nursing their cars, abandons it on the city’s streets. Illegal parking plagues the world. Paris police say that 1/3 of all cars on that city’s streets at any given time are parked illegally. Japan will not even register a car unless the owner can prove that he has bought or rented a parking space to put it in. Washington, New York, Philadelphia, and other American cities are so frustrated and overcome by parking tickets that they hire collection agencies to try to collect some of them. Chicago has $500,000,000 worth of unpaid tickets and writes another 4,000,000 every year. Then there are the staggering amounts paid for policemen, administration, judges, besides the enormous sum paid to keep the highways in good condition. The car may not use any oats while it is parked, but it creates huge problems for society.
Casper, Wyoming, with a population of 1,000, has 729 vehicles. Los Angeles has 3,040 cars per square mile. Larger cities have cramped living space into cubicles to build mass-transport highways and ramps that clog the air with pollution from the exhaust pipes. 2/3 of Los Angeles is taken up with streets, ramps, freeways, parking facilities and garages. This is not to mention that many of the houses include garage attachments. Automobile density is worsening each day. The U.S. Government has imposed a Clean Air act to eliminate some of the smog and lethal gases, but catalytic converters, while suppressing some emissions, are substituting others which cause cancer, according to Swiss research.
Besides the 44,175 people killed in automobile accidents in 1984, 1,600,000 other received injuries, 150,000 of them permanent. During nine years of war in Viet Nam, the total American dead was only about 2,000 greater than the number killed on the highway in 1983, and the wounded was less than 1/10 of those disabled in automobile accidents that year. More Americans have died in automobile accidents than have been killed in all the wars that America ever fought, making the love of the automobile a dark romance, to say the least. What does it cost to run the automobile? Well, in spite of “falling” gas prices and increased fuel efficiency, a study released by Hertz Corporation in 1985 says that the average cost is 45.67 cents per mile for a compact and 59.77 cents for a standard-sized car. If you drive 10,000 miles a year, and include depreciation, insurance, licensing, repairs, accessories, gas and oil, the total comes to over $4,500 per year for a compact and almost $6,000 for a standard. (And that was in 1985!) You can see then that driving a car is not just a “free-wheeling” lark, but has become a big bite out of the old pocketbook.
Some economists state that one worker in every five (others say seven or six) workers in the U.S. labor force is employed by some activity related to automobiles. The modern car is made up of some 14,000 parts. These parts are fashioned out of steel, glass, rubber, chrome, and aluminum, among countless other elements.
- 1903 Debut of the enclosed car and glass windshield.
- 1904 Steering wheels replaced tillers.
- 1908 The first rumble seat. It was part of a Packard two-seater called the “Honeymoon car.”
- 1909 Introduction of the compressed air self-starter. It never worked well.
- 1912 The electric self-starter we use today was perfected by Samuel Kettering.
- 1914 Henry Ford started paying his employees a daily minimum wage of five dollars. He thought that his employees should be able to afford the cars they built.
- 1916 Something for women; cars would feature vanity cases, clocks, crystal flower vases, telephones to “instruct” the driver and smelling salts.
- 1917 Car heaters started to appear on several models.
- 1920 The pneumatic tire was introduced allowing the new possibility of flat tires.
- 1922 The Wills-St. Clair featured a back-up light.
- 1925 The first rental car: the Hertz “Drivurself.”
- 1926 Shock-proof” glass on Stutz and Rickenbacher models.
- 1927 The year of the chrome trim.
- 1930 The first front-wheel drive cars offered to the public were the Gardner, the Cord and the Auburn.
- 1931 Sun visors for the interior of the car became available.
- 1933 The billboards first announcing mileage appeared in displays due to concern for fuel economy.
- 1937 Batteries were moved to a new position, under the hood, and the first automatic transmission (as we know it) appeared on an Oldsmobile.
- 1938 Buick made turn signals available.
Believe it or Not…
Since horses were quite frightened of cars, they were a great worry for the first drivers. Uriah Smith, the founder of the Horsey Horseless Carriage Company in Battle Creek, Michigan had a solution. His motor car came with a wooden, life-sized horse head on the front. No mention was made of the fact that this did nothing to quiet the noise of the engine.
The 1955 Dodge Custom Royal LaFemme was equipped with a matching rain cape, boot, umbrella and purse.
Believe it or Not…
Since horses were quite frightened of cars, they were a great worry for the first drivers. Uriah Smith, the founder of the Horsey Horseless Carriage Company in Battle Creek, Michigan had a solution. His motor car came with a wooden, life-sized horse head on the front. No mention was made of the fact that this did nothing to quiet the noise of the engine.
The 1955 Dodge Custom Royal LaFemme was equipped with a matching rain cape, boot, umbrella and purse.
The Ford Model T (introduced in 1908) sold for about $290 without extras. Because it was so simple, it lent itself to becoming the most adaptable car in history. Some of the aftermarket extras included tool chests, rubber hood silencers, tire-patching kits flower vases and clamp-on dash lights.
A farmer could reasonably afford a set of tractor wheels to fit a model T. If he needed to use his car in the fields, he could mount the tractor wheels and hitch up his plow, or whatever.
The car made an excellent power plant. If you jacked up the rear wheel and removed the tire, you could attach a belt from the wheel to your buzz saw to cut wood.
Model T’s were used to generate electricity, pump water, grind feed, shear sheep, shred corn, churn butter and grind sausage.
The Model T was the first snowmobile in the 20’s. A special undercarriage was developed, the front wheels were moved to the rear, and each double set of wheels was fitted with steel caterpillar treads. After steel sled runners were attached to the front axle, the snowmobile was ready for the farmers and woodsmen in the deep northern snows.
In rural Pennsylvania at the turn of the century, a group of farmers formed the “Farmers’ Anti-Automobile Society,” (or FAAS as we would know it today) to set down some rules for car owners.
Automobiles traveling at night must send up a rocket (Roman candle) every mile, wait ten minutes (for the road to clear) and then proceed (with caution) while blowing the horn.
If a driver sees horses coming, he must pull over to the side of the road, stop and cover his car with a camouflage cover.
If a horse refuses to pass a car on the road, the driver must dismantle the car and hide the pieces in the bushes.
FAAS members, as well as members of the community were also encouraged to spend Sundays to chase automobiles, shout and shoot at drivers, as well as threaten them with arrest.