automobile, people traveled
by means of bicycles, trains, street cars and horse-drawn carriages. These
methods of transportation were slow, limited and not private. Up until the about
1880, inventors experimented with building a "horseless carriage." These
experiments were powered mainly by steam, and were not practical. They traveled
at slow speeds (six miles an hour), were very noisy, frightened horses, smelled
awful and polluted the air. Sometimes the coals (used to make steam) would fall
off the auto, and burn wooden bridges down. Railroads and stage coach lines
hated the automobiles because they did not want competition. Autos were scarce
and ridiculed by most of the population. "The car began life as a rich manís
toy, rather than a means of transport or as an instrument of social change."
They were displayed in circuses because they were considered a wacky idea with
no future. The development and acceptance of the automobile in America took
place around the turn of the century, from 1895 to 1910.
The most successful
steam car was the
Stanley Steamer, invented in Newton, Massachusetts in 1897 by
Francis and Freelan Stanley. It was produced until 1924. The steam car did not
fare well because it was not suited for long distance travel, was too hard to
start and posed the hazard of an open fire. In the late 1890ís and early 1900ís
the electric car was the most popular type of automobile. William Morrison was
the creator of this type of car. People liked the electric car because it was
easy to operate, ran quietly and did not give off fumes. Unfortunately for
modern society, the electric cars could not go faster than 20 miles an hour, and
the battery had to be recharged every fifty miles. The electric car lost
popularity because of these two problems which were overcome with the invention
of the gas powered engine in 1879, by George B. Selden of Rochester, New York.
"The first gasoline powered vehicle, an experimental model, was not built
until the 1860ís, and gasoline automobiles were not produced commercially in
this country until a few years before the start of the twentieth century." The
patent on Seldenís internal combustion engine was not granted until 1895, and it
was this patent that had a profound revolutionary effect on the fledgling
Charles and J. Frank Duryea were the most notable of
the pioneers of the gasoline automobile. The Duryea Motor Company produced the
first gas powered car in 1893 - 1894. In 1896, they produced thirteen identical
cars, the beginning of mass automobile production in the United States. Only one
of these cars remains today, in the Smithsonian institution. Autos in Europe
were touted as being superior to the American car. A slightly different model of
the Duryea won a road race in England proving that American automobile
development was on a par with European efforts.
The work of Henry Ford,
Elwood Haynes, Stephen Balzer, Charles Brady King, and Ransom Olds in
experimenting with gasoline engines, was beginning to change the perception of
the car by the American people. They built many test automobiles during the
1890ís. Haynes invented the carburetor and muffler, which improved the
automobile. He also invented a cobalt metal alloy named Stellite which was
important in metal working tools. Ransom Olds developed the first US car to be
sold abroad. He founded the Olds Motor Works in Detroit in 1899. He pioneered
the development of a light weight, one cylinder, inexpensive car called the
"Curved Dash." Many thousands of these cars were sold by 1906. In 1904 Olds left
Olds Motor Works and formed the Reo Motor Company. Many people consider him
to be the founder of the American auto industry.
Two developments spurred
the growth of the automobile industry in 1901. Gasoline prices were reduced as a
result of oil fields discovered in Texas. The supply of gasoline was greatly
increased so that automobiles could be operated inexpensively. The other
development was the advent of mass production and the use of assembly lines.
Ransom Olds built the first factory specifically for manufacturing cars.
Unfortunately, it burned down in 1900. Olds arranged for outside machine shops
to manufacture the engines and transmissions for his cars. The parts were
brought to the factory and were wheeled from one worker to another to be
assembled. In 1901, 425 cars were produced, in 1902, 3750 cars were made and in
1903, 5000 cars were produced. Other manufacturers began to use mass production
A important enhancement to mass production came when Henry M.
Leland, the president of Cadillac Automobile Company, came up with the idea for
interchangeable parts. Interchangeable parts can be used in any car of the same
model. Up to this point, parts were made to fit only one car so that repairing
or replacing a part was very difficult. Leland proved the value of his theory by
sending three cars of the same type to England. Mechanics took the cars apart,
jumbled the parts together and then reassembled the cars successfully.
"horseless carriage" era of automobile manufacturing came to an end in 1906.
That year the United States took over world leadership of the automobile
industry. The Oldsmobile, Cadillac and Buick plants set records for motor car
production. Production increased by 25%, and the plants turned out 32,200 cars.
Automobile production increased by 25% again in 1907. Cadillac and Buick began
producing large powerful cars which were accepted by the public. The Ford Motor
Company slipped unnoticed into the growing automotive industry. While steam and
electric cars were still manufactured, the gas powered automobile was clearly
the future of the automotive industry.
Henry Ford became a prominent figure
in the automotive industry in 1905. Ford had experimented for years with cars.
Before establishing the Ford Motor Company, he had little commercial success in
the motor car industry. He founded the Detroit Automobile Company in 1899, but
it went out of business in 1902. The
Company lasted for one year,
from 1901 to 1902. He formed the Ford Motor Company in 1903, when the market for
motor cars was bountiful. Cadillac and Buick could not keep up with the demand
for cars, so Ford stepped right in.. "With twenty-eight thousand dollars in
cash, the Ford Motor Company was founded, and only one month later the bank
balance showed just two hundred twenty-three dollars and sixty-five cents. At
about this time, they sold their very first car at the full price of eight
hundred and fifty dollars...within a year, the directors shared nearly one
hundred thousand dollars in dividends."
Ford believed that producing an
affordable car was the key to success in the growing automotive market. Ford
produced the Model T in 1908. The car was originally sold for $850.00. The price
was reduced to as low as $400.00 in 1916. Ford was able to produce the
inexpensive high quality cars because he used and improved on the modern
manufacturing techniques, pioneered by Olds and Leland. A little known fact is
that the Dodge Brothers, who later formed the Dodge Motor Company in 1915, ran a
machine shop in Detroit. Ford contracted with them to build engines and
transmissions for his Model T. The Dodger brothers built the insides of more
than 500,000 Model Ts. Ford introduced the moving assembly line, where parts
were put on conveyor belts and moved from work station to work station. He sold
more than 15,000,000 Model Tís from 1908 to 1927. More than half the cars in
America during this time period were Model Tís.
"The appearance of the Model
T is generally regarded as the milestone in the transition of the car from its
role as a Ďtoy of the richí to a Ďtool of the people.í" The advent of the Model
T allowed new levels of society to buy and experience the benefits of owning a
car. The Model T or "Tin Lizzie " as it was otherwise known was the culmination
of all earlier efforts to, in effect, build the perfect car. Unlike in Europe,
where the auto remained a luxury, the Model T became Ďeverymanís carí, and
changed the American cultural landscape. The Model T first appeared in 1908, and
was produced with almost no change until 1927. About 15,000,000 Model Ts were
sold in this time period.
The engine of the Model T was a four cylinder,
four cycle, water cooled L-head unit. It had 22.5 horsepower. The transmission
provided two forward speeds and reverse. The driver controlled the forward
speeds with the left pedal, the reverse with the center pedal and the
transmission brake with the right pedal. There was a lever to operate the rear
wheel brakes. By combining the use of the pedals and the lever the driver could
control the speed of the car.
The car weighed a little more than 1,200
pounds. The wheels were wooden spoke wheels mounted on clincher tires. The body
was made of wood and metal and the seats were upholstered in tufted black
leather. The car had three doors, two in the back, and one in the front opposite
the driver. There was a folding windshield, a collapsible top, a horn and
kerosene tail and side lamps. There was no spare tire. The gas tank was beneath
the front seat.
The advertising campaign for the Model T read as follows:
"The same old Ford Company has been manufacturing Ford cars designed by Henry
Ford, since the very earliest days of the industry. The first automobile ever
seen in Detroit was a Ford. One of the first half dozen built in America was
designed and built by Ford; 40,000 Ford cars have since been built and all have
made good. There never was a Ford failure - there never was an unfulfilled Ford
promise and the years have built up a reputation for Ford that it would be folly
to risk at this late date." The mass production techniques of the Model T were
applied to other industries to manufacture their products more efficiently. An
example of this is the production of gas powered farm equipment, such as the
tractor. The whole concept of manufacturing was turned on its ear. Assembly
lines and mass production became the norm.
Another major event with far
reaching consequences occurred in the car industry in 1908. William G. Durant, a
former carriage maker, formed General Motors, combining Oldsmobile, Buick,
Cadillac, Oakland and seven other companies. The rise of the company was slow
but steady. One of the biggest contributions of General Motors to the
development of the car was the invention of the electric starter in 1912. This
made the starting and operation of a car much easier and much safer. General
Motors achieved success in the 1920ís, when the popularity of the Model T waned.
Today General Motors is the nationís largest auto manufacturer.
By 1908 the
automobile industry was a success. Modern manufacturing techniques, the gasoline
powered engine, affordable fuel and acceptance by the American people all
combined to make the automobile part of our world. There were many people in
addition to those mentioned in the report who contributed to the success of the
automobile. Listed below are some of these people with a brief description of
David Buick - developed the original Buick, the first
car to demonstrate and popularize the valve-in-head engine, now used in all
Louis Chevrolet - chief engineer of the first Chevrolet motor
cars. These were six cylinder, heavy, beautiful and expensive cars. Chevrolet
has made more transportation vehicles than any other manufacturer.
Chrysler - founder and first president of the Chrysler Corporation. He added
Dodge to the Chrysler Corporation. He was president of Buick and vice president
James Couzens - early business manager of Ford Motor Company. He held
Fordís respect, was pivotal in the financial dealings of the company. He helped
hold together the company during the manufacture of the Model T.
Horace Dodge - produced parts for Oldsmobile and Ford. Developed the Dodge
motorcar, the motor cars used by the United States Army.
Kettering - developed the first electrical self starter now used in all cars. A
force in demanding the establishment of automotive research as equally important
as manufacturing and marketing cars.
Henry Leland - developed the Cadillac
and the Lincoln. His machine shop produced motorcar parts with excellent
precision. Introduced the concept of interchangeable parts. He invented the
electrical system of the motorcar.
Charles W. Nash - executive of
Durant-Dort Carriage Company, became president of Buick and General Motors.
Established the Nash Motor Company.
James W. Packard - designed and
introduced the Packard in 1899 in Warren, Ohio. The Packard became the American
luxury car between the two World Wars. It was sold for 59 years from 1899 to
C. Harold Wills - engineer and designer who worked with Henry Ford to
develop the Model T. He urged the use of lighter steel alloys in making cars. He
created the Willis-St. Clair car, one of the luxury cars of the 1920ís.
N. Willys - founded and ran the Willys Overland Company for twenty years. He
sold more cars in competition with the Model T than any other company.
Alexander Winton - designed and produced the third successful internal
combustion motor car . The Winton was the first luxury car to be produced in the
US before World War I. It was produced from 1896 to 1925.
From Horse to
Horsepower is an appropriate name for this era. In 1865, the common method of
transportation was the horse and buggy. By 1908, it was apparent that the
automobile was the transportation of the future. The automobile had radically
changed America, and has become a symbol of modern times. Today over seven
million automobiles are produced in the U.S. as well as over three million
trucks and buses. The automobile industry is the leading manufacturing industry
in the Unites States and is the primary customer of many other industries. For
instance the auto industry buys 15% of all steel, 62% of all lead, and 65% of
all the rubber manufactured and processed in the United States. About thirteen
million Americans are employed by the auto industry and related businesses. The
automobile has a spawned many other industries and created millions of other
jobs. Examples are the Federal Highway Systems, state and local road systems and
the workers who care for these roads. A familiar example of a small business
developed because of the automobile is snow plowing, a very lucrative part time
occupation in this part of the United States. All this is the result of the
ingenuity and creativity of the turn of the century automotive pioneers.
1) Berkebile, Donald & Oliver, Smith The
Smithsonian Collection of Automobiles and Motorcycles, Washington DC:
Smithsonian Institution Press, 1968
2) Burness, Tad, The Auto Album,
Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1983.
3) Crabb, Richard, Birth of a Giant, New
York: Chilton Book Company, 1969
4) Hill, Frank The Automobile How it
Came, Grew, and Has Changed Our Lives, New York: Dodd, Mead and co., 1967.
5) Hendry, P.G. Vintage and Veteran Cars, New York: Arco Publishing
6) Ludvigsen, Karl & Wise, David The Encyclopedia
of the American Automobile Secaucus,, NJ: Chartwell Books, Inc., 1977.
7) Pettifer, Julian & Turner, Nigel Automania, Great Britain:
Little, Brown & Company, 1984.
8) Sedgewick, James Early Cars
London: Octopus Publishing, 1962.
9) The World Book Encyclopedia,
Chicago: World Book, Inc., 1997
*Picture of Model T Ford from Vintage
and Veteran Cars by P.G. Hendry.