It doesn’t seem possible that the automobile has only been around in the U.S. for a little over 100 years but that’s a fact. The automobile is so ingrained in our lives that we can’t remember a time when we rode horses to get places. I thought it’d be fun to take a look back.
In the 1900 there were 8,000 vehicles in the entire U.S and only 144 miles of paved roads.
Henry Ford founded Ford Motor Company in 1903 and set up shop in a converted wagon factory. That was the same year the Model A came out, but it was quickly abandoned until the 1920’s when it was reintroduced. I always get confused as to whether the Model A or the Model T was first, but the Model T didn’t arrive on the market until 1908 according to Wikipedia. The Model T was affectionately called the Tin Lizzie and the Flivver. Henry Ford produced over 10,000 of these cars the first year. It was extremely popular and reliable. And while the Ford wasn’t the first vehicle to be built it was certainly the most widely driven car.
But the car industry started slowly because of various factors. Roads were little more than horse paths and difficult to navigate. There were no gas stations, no mechanics, and no road signs. If a car broke down, the owner would have to wait for a horse to come and pull him back into town and usually crude repairs were done by blacksmiths or bicycle shops. One site I found stated that a driver averaged at least one flat tire each outing. That must’ve been frustrating.
The first drive-in gas station in the U.S. (and my source said the world) was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1913.
With the advent of vehicle travel, people saw the need for laws, speed limits, and common rules of the road. The Department of Motor Vehicles was founded in 1917 to help address some of these problems:
- Good brakes, a horn, and lamp were required on all cars.
- Drivers were required to stop to allow teams of horses to pass. Also drivers were required to assist in leading horses past their motor vehicle.
- At intersections drivers had to come to a stop and blow their horn before slowly proceeding.
- Drivers must keep to the right at all times.
- A minimum age of drivers.
But despite all the rules and regulations that came about folks were thrilled with their vehicles. An entire line of clothing and accessories came about due to this exciting new way to travel. Drivers and passengers alike bought special hats, gloves, dusters, goggles, and boots. Many horseless carriages didn’t have tops so that allowed dirt, bugs, and grime to collect on the travelers thus the need for protection.
And everyone in town knew who owned what car so the cars were soon tokens of their identity. Having a vehicle elevated a person’s social status.
Regardless of the perks though, there were certain drawbacks. Often the cranks flew backward when someone was trying to start their car and broke their arms. And then there jump seats where sometimes passengers rode and when the vehicle hit a bump or pothole in the road they would fly out and land in the dirt and wouldn’t be missed until the driver reached home. I thought this was pretty funny. I can just picture it.
Listen to what the Literary Digest printed in 1899: “The ordinary ‘horseless carriage’ is at present a luxury for the wealthy; and although its price will probably fall in the future, it will never, of course, come into as common use as the bicycle.”
Have you read any romances that featured horseless carriages or tin lizzies? The only one that comes to mind is RUNABOUT by Pamela Morsi that came out in 1994. I’m sure there are others. Maybe you know one.