History Brief: The Rise of the Automobile

History Brief: The Rise of the Automobile


The Rise of the Automobile
Few technological innovations have changed
America as profoundly as the automobile. How
did the car change America? Did everyone like
this new conveyance?
In the early 1900s, Henry Ford developed the
Model T. The Model T is often considered the
first affordable and practical vehicle ever
produced. The average family could afford
to purchase one because of Ford’s assembly
line production methods. This allowed the
company to produce cars cheaply and quickly.
As the popularity of the car increased, automobile
manufacturing became the biggest industry
in America and helped boost the nation’s entire
economy. Not only did thousands of people
go to work for car manufacturing facilities,
but other industries were impacted as well.
Steel, glass, rubber, fabric, and gasoline
were all needed for the successful production
of vehicles. Additionally, many enterprising
businessmen were finding other ways to profit
off of the automobile. Gas stations, auto
mechanics, road-side diners, and motels all
became increasingly common businesses.
The national highway system also started to
boom. In no time at all, the United States
had the finest network of paved roads in the
world. By 1927, there were more than 50,000
miles of hard-surfaced roads, and more than
10,000 miles of new roads were being constructed
each year.
For years, the nation had been dependent upon
railroads for long-distance travel. Cars eliminated
this dependence. People could now take themselves
where they needed to go. Families could take
day-trips to nearby towns, or even vacations
to other states (the trip from New York to
California took about thirteen days). Towns
that had been constructed along the railroad
lines began to decrease in size, while towns
along the newly built highways started to
blossom.
It was no longer necessary for workers to
live close to their place of employment. They
could live where they desired (or could afford
to) and drive to work each day. Schools began
to consolidate because children could be bussed
in from other areas. Churches and other social
organizations began to do the same as it was
no longer necessary for these places to be
within walking distance. These all resulted
in the size of the average community spreading
out, a concept that came to be known as “urban
sprawl”.
Many people praised the automobile for improved
living conditions. There were no longer large
piles of horse manure in the streets. This
meant less flies, less bacteria, and fewer
diseases. Air quality in cities also improved
significantly.
Not everyone was a fan of the automobile,
though. Some referred to cars as “demon machines”
and felt that these new devices were responsible
for destroying the traditional American family
as people began going on joy-rides rather
than staying at home. Others pointed to the
number of people being killed in auto accidents.
More than 170,000 people died on the roads
during the 1920s.
However, regardless of whether the car was
loved or hated, there was no doubt that it
was here to stay. It was also readily apparent
that the automobile had changed the nation
forever.

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