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Media post: Can You Separate America from the Automobiles?

Ford Model T

The automobile is synonymous with American life. Look around, shopping malls and office buildings were all built with car travel in mind. The emergence of the car as a consumer product has changed the United States landscape.  But, how did the car become so essential in American life?  Why not subway systems, trains, or other kinds of public transportation?  It was a matter of timing…and pioneers like Henry Ford.

It is difficult to think of a time when there weren’t roads in North America, but that is how it was. Up until towards the end of the 19th century, there were very few roads, and many people traveled via horse-drawn coach on what were basically big pathways. By the century’s turn, coaches started to fade in popularity and railroads became the main method of travel over long distances and it wasn’t long before the U.S has many railroad lines. In cities, streetcars and subway systems also emerged, changing residents’ lifestyles by offering them the chance to easily get around.

Between 1900 and 1915, the number of cars in America jumped from only 8 thousand to more than 2 million. This is what happened according to this Temecula, CA RAM truck dealership. The person given the most credit for this increase in automobiles is Henry Ford, who founded the Ford Motor Company.  It is said that Ford coined the term “assembly line. Ford also applied mass production principles to the process of building automobiles. Because of this, the Ford Motor Company built 14 million Model T Fords between 1913 and 1927. This is one car for every ten Americans; a concept that was almost impossible to believe at the time.

By the early 1930s, cars were becoming an important part of American life and there were so many companies making automobiles.  Before long, America’s very structure was beginning to be shaped by this consumer product.  Perhaps the top indication of that came in 1956, when President Eisenhower signed the Interstate Highway Act. The Act created more than 42,500 miles of highways across the country. This cemented the dominance of the automobile as a component of what it means to live in the United States.

Nowadays, with oil’s rising price driving the cost of gasoline up and up, many drivers are seeking out alternative transportation means. People who’ve moved out to the suburbs to avoid urban living, for example, are now think about moving closer to their jobs in the city in order to save money at the gas pump and cut down on commute time. Will this begin a downward trend in automobile ownership?  It doesn’t seem likely.  America is a car culture and is likely to stay that way for decades to come.  What we are seeing now is a shift in what passenger vehicles are used for.  As people move closer to the city and look to drive less, the automobile only gets used less than before for casual travel and more for specialized travel such as holidays or trips to visit family. There is really no question about this.

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