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The 1920's were a turbulent decade for automakers. Hundreds of new makes and models burst onto the market scene. The economy was in the midst of a post-war boom. At the time, many automakers couldn't ask for more. The 20's automobile era began with the return of eager World War I soldiers. Car sales soon went through the roof, as the public came to realize the benefits of an automobile. Auto-touring (vacationing) became extremely popular,with campsites and filling stations springing up around America.

As the end of the decade neared, Ford and Chevrolet locked horns in a fierce pricing battle that continued through the Thirties. Other automakers, such as Cadillac, Packard, and Chrysler, began to have an impact on the market.

Being one of the most significant inventions of the 1920s, the automobile drastically changed the lives of Americans for the better. It not only improved transportation (obviously), it also gave the economy the boost it needed to provide America with the age of prosperity that the 20s is known for.

By 1927, the Model T had really taken off Over the first few years of the 1920s, the automobile became a hit with everyone, especially young people who wanted freedom and excitement. Soon virtually every household in America owned an automobile, and it quickly became an integrated part of American life. Parents would drive to work in their automobiles. Families could visit friends and family who lived farther away. And young people found a whole new way to have fun.

Affecting not only American culture during the 1920s, the automobile also helped American industries. The sharp demand for automobile sparked the creation of a whole new industry in the 20s, the automobile industry. Ford had to provide for his clients somehow, so he expanded his factories, creating more jobs, more revenues, and improving the American economy in virtually every way. Automobiles that drove around a lot found it hard to drive on the poor dirt roads that were common back then, and they required a lot of fuel to run also. So nation wide road construction took place, which created even more jobs, and strengthened the economy even further.

By the end of the decade, there was almost one car per family in the United States (Bruce 80). As a result, the automobile became an increasingly important part of American lives. Workers no longer needed to live close to their workplace, instead they could live farther away and still arrive at their jobs with ease.

Homemakers could run errands with greater convenience. The overall increase in productivity and efficiency left the American people with more time for entertainment and recreation. Families could visit relatives on a constant basis, even distant relatives. The automobile provided a perfect way for people, especially for adolescents, to socialize and make merry. The automobile craze even came to a point where the back seat of a car replaced the parlor as a place for courtship and love.

With the growing importance of the automobile, the city moved to improve its streets. In 1921 pavement covered fifteen miles, or less than a quarter of the city's total and that included only the major thoroughfares and downtown streets used by business and manufacturing. There were virtually no curbs or gutters anywhere in the city. By 1919 some thirty-four miles, nearly fifty per cent of the city's total, were hard-surfaced. Almost every street in town had been curbed, guttered, and graveled in preparation for paving.

While the city responded with improved roads, private individuals were building special houses for their automobiles. Even in 1920 and 1921, when the high cost of materials limited construction projects, local residents began a garage-building spree which lasted throughout the decade. Virtually every family residence erected in the '20's had a special house for its automobile, and many occupants of older homes replaced the high stable with a rectangular garage.
If we didn't have the new automobiles of the 1920's we would have less of them today and it could cause a lot of problems with this day in age. we would not have the new ideas from the company's and would probably still be using the old age type.

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Roads that had been designed for horse transport began to deteriorate under the steadily increasing load of traffic. In 1906 local governments supplied 96 per cent. of the road funding. In 1927 the State governments supplied about 37 per cent., the Federal Government 10 per cent., and the local governments 53 per cent. While horse-drawn traffic prevailed, roads were a matter for local administration, but the motorcar brought the question into a broader jurisdiction.

The funding problem for building and maintaining roads suitable for motor cars was largely solved by the introduction of a tax on gas. By the end of 1929 all the states had introduced a gas tax varying from two to five cents per gallon that raised millions of dollars per year.

Roads (including wooden roads) had to be redesigned and rebuilt to accomodate the automobile, new road rules had to be introduced, standardized road signs erected, and methods of controlling traffic (like traffic lights) implemented in densely populated areas.

Vehicles required much higher road clearances than modern cars due to the poor state of roads and tracks, hence the large diameter skinny tires of the day which were effective at cutting through mud to reach more solid ground.

The car enabled people to travel much further afield than foot or horse had permitted. Touring vacations became popular, but motorists had to plan carefully as there were often long distances between petrol stations and breakdowns were fairly common. Tourist parks (Motels) and other facilities sprang up to service the needs of travelling motorists. Service station chains cashed in on the trend by supplying maps that highlighted their business locations, and then sold travellers food and drink as well as petrol and oil.

Photo of a small 1920's Service Station

New makes of cars proliferated - from the low cost Model T Ford through to the expensive Duesenberg and even more expensive Rolls Royce. Most of the carmakers no longer exist or have been amalgamated but many of the old car names like Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Dodge, Fiat, Ford, Lincoln, and Oldsmobile live on today. Others like the Auburn, Cole, Crow, Davis, Dixie, Durant, Elcar, Grant, King, Kline, Lafayette, Kurtz, Marmon, Mercer, Overland, Peerless, Pilot, Roamer, Saxon, Stearns, Velie, Wescott and Winton are only seen in vintage car shows today.

One of the biggest motoring events of 1927 was the release of the "new Ford", the Model A, which replaced the long-standing Model T after 18 years of production.

Most of the early cars were open tourers (convertibles) but it didn't take long before they were enclosed and fitted with car heaters to improve passenger comfort. Companies that had formerly produced horse drawn vehicles became vehicle manufacturers or built bodies on chassis produced by others. Many of the expensive cars were custom built for their wealthy owners, who often had a chauffeur/mechanic to drive them.

Many of the automotive innovations that we think of as being modern were in fact introduced in the 1920's. Things like electric powered cars, four wheel drive, front wheel drive, and even hybrid fuel/electric cars.

Car advertisements became more sophisticated as psychology was employed by copywriters. Previously, ads had focused on specifications, engine horsepower, and features - but the late 1920's ushered in the style of advertising that appealed to people's emotions rather than intellect. Automobile manufacturers also targeted women drivers by advertising in women's magazines and by making cars more appealing to women. They did this by increasing the range of colors, improving the quality and style of upholstery and interior linings, and by making cars easier to drive and maintain.

Many of the car paint colors and color schemes were based on English horse-drawn coach livery, and even chauffeur driven car designs resembled horse-drawn coaches. Never before had cars been so colorful and attractive, with flowing curves and rakish lines. Bright paint colors and dual tone color schemes were features of many 1920s cars - with the exception of Fords which for many years only came in black.

Vehicle comfort levels improved with the introduction of heaters, balloon tires, and improved suspensions including better shock absorbers.

 

It didn't take long for Insurance companies who specialized in building and life insurance to realize that the advent of the motor car opened up a whole new market of car insurance. Cars were very expensive items and owners also realized they needed protection from theft and damage. Car insurance rates were very high initially which generated a lot of complaints from motorists.

The wealthy disposed of some of their excess wealth in the late 1920's by splurging on expensive ($15,000-$50,000) european cars like Mercedes and Hispano-Suiza which they imported into America. America too had its luxury cars like the Cadillac and Packard that were favored by the big name movie stars and wealthy individuals.

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