The Rise of Automobiles



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The Rise of Automobiles

This article was written by Tim Samuel, but is no longer available online at his website, which appears to be defunct.

There was no greater symbol of the 1920's than the automobile. The impressive leather coaching and customized interiors radiated luxury and prosperity. The relative ease of operation and reliability meant freedom. Beneath their hoods many of the cars exhibited impressively large engines, delivering speed and excitement.

The automobile was arguably the most important catalyst for social change in the 1920's, liberating Americans from often restrictive home or neighborhood situations. Many women used the cars to save time in their daily domestic chores -- in turn giving them more free time, in which they could educate themselves, or find a job. The younger generations loved the car as an escape from the chaperones. A juvenile court judge criticized the auto as a "house of prostitution on wheels," due to the relatively large quantity of "inappropriate" sex occurring in the car. Businessmen, possessing a faster, more personal form of transportation, could live farther from the city and subway stops. Consequently the suburb lifestyle began in places like Queens and the Bronx. Rural Americans loved the car as a ride to town and the social circles.

Automobiles had existed before the Twenties, but were expensive, unreliable, and generally only toys for the rich. What made the auto so influential in the 1920's was its increased availability and dependability. Scientific management and the assembly line increased factory productivity and decreased cost, making the auto more affordable. By 1930 every 1.3 households owned a car, versus 44 households in 1910. Henry Ford was largely responsible for this movement, pioneering efficient production methods and striving to produce a reliable and practical car for the masses. His legendary Model-T, produced between 1913 and 1927, was sold as low as $290 (+-$2,900 today). Its successor, the Model-A, sold for as little as $460 ($4,600). There was a movement in America to make Henry Ford president.



However, there was also a large high-priced auto market. The Coolidge Prosperity fueled the prices of such monsters as the Locomobile Model 48, for $13,000($130,000), and the 1929 Rolls-Royce Phantom, selling between $17-18,000(180,000). These luxurious cars undoubtedly functioned as status symbols, transporting the occupants in a style that cannot be found today.


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