Technology as symbol & system – automobile.


steam power for road transport: 

-1769 Nicholas Cugnot (France):

steam tractors pulling cannon.

 - 1801 Richard Trevithick (Britain);

- 1805 Oliver Evans (US) steam-powered dredge "Orukter Amphibolos". 


Britain 1865 Locomotive Act or Red Flag Act - speed limit for "road locomotives" 2 mph in town, 4 mph on open road; attendant walk 60 yards ahead. 

France - civil engineers, good roads.


1890s "bicycle craze":

“penny-farthing” bicycle;

1885 safety bicycle,

US 2 million miles of road 1908 -less than 10% paved; most of those just gravel.

League of American Wheelmen

Good Roads movement,

Bicycle manufacture as technical precursor to auto making - special machine tools, chain drive, etc.

Auto makers who started as bike makers:

Opel (Germany),

Peugeot (France),

Morris (Britain),

Pope & Willys (US).


What type of power?

1870s, French experiments with steam cars;

1900 steam-powered buses in Paris.

1898 US, Francis & Freelan Stanley:

reduced engine to 35 pounds & boiler to 90 pounds.

Locomobile best-selling car in US 1900, under $1000 - made 5000.

1906, Stanley Steamer. 

Technical advantages and disadvantages.


Electric car experiments 1890s, France;

1897, 12 electric taxis in NY.

Pope 1898 made 500 electric autos. 


internal combusion

"you can't convince people to sit over an explosion."


doctrine of separate spheres regarding gender.

“It’s no child’s play to run a motor car.  No license should be granted to anyone under eighteen – & never to a woman, unless, possibly, for a car driven by electric power.”

Alice Roosevelt – Rhode Island to D.C.

Joan Cuneo, racer.


Karl Benz (Germany):

1893 car, 3-horsepower engine,

sold 1,132 cars by 1898, 509 in France.

- Paris world center of auto production turn of century, probably over 130 manufacturers - Darracq, Delahaye & Renault;

skilled labor, metal-working firms, upperclass market. 

1895 race Paris to Bordeaux & back;

22 cars started, nine finished, eight internal combustion.  One 15 mph. 

- 1898 auto show, Paris.


Charles & Frank Duryea (US) bicycle mechanics,

Scientific American

1893 first successful US gas car 1893.

- 1895 Chicago Times-Herald race,

6 cars start (two electric, three Benz, one Duryea).

Duryea, 55 miles, 8 hours

1895 Horseless Age. 

Duryea car $1500.


1899 thirty US manufacturers produced 2500 motor vehicles. 

possibly 1000 experimental operations,

Midwest. Michigan carriage-making. 



- Ransom Olds first large-volume US producer of gas cars;

one-cylinder, three-horsepower,

1901 Mercedes 35-horsepower engine, 53 mph.

Olds $650

1901 Roy Chapin Detroit to NY,ten days, average 14 mph.

Olds 5,500 cars, 1904. 


1900 auto show Madison Square Garden.

1903, SF-NY.

1909 Alice Ramsey

1906 SF earthquake,

1904, US overtook French auto production.

1910, 458,500 motor vehicles registered US.

more powerful engines, smaller wheels, pneumatic tires, steering wheel. 

1912 Charles Kettering - self-starter.


- Alanson Brush 1906 Brush Runabout, $500 - wood body.


Henry Ford - "a car for the great multitude," quality & reasonable price. 


-Ford machinist Detroit branch of Edison Illuminating Company.

1896 "quadricycle" 8-mile run Detroit to Dearborn. 


1899 Detroit Automobile Company

1901 race against Alexander Winton. 

1901 Henry Ford Company

1902 999 racer 70 horsepower;

Barney Oldfield, "might as well be dead as dead broke."

1903 Ford Motor Company

1904, sold 658 autos

1905 300 workers, 25 cars per day 

1908 Model T - four cylinders, 20-horsepower, $825

"No car under $2000 offers more & no car over $2000 offers more except the trimmings." 

Within year, sold over 10,000.


mass production,

1910 Highland Park, Michigan.

Team - machinist Walter Flanders, engineer Charles Sorensen. 

Machines in sequential, logical order.  Special purpose machine tools, precise gauges, customized system of power transmission.

1910, assembly teams moved through factory, down row of stationary auto frames.

"moving the work to the man" – April, 1913, test assembly line in flywheel dept

old system, one craftsman 40 per day; new assembly line 95 per worker per day.

August, 1913, final stage of assembly.

Reduced chassis assembly-time from 12.5 hours to 1.5 hours. 

1916 River Rouge - conveyor belts, gravity slides - 115 acres.

- skilled workers (machinists, engineers) & unskilled assemblers & machine-tenders. Ethnic divide.

“one word every foreman had to learn in English, German, Polish & Italian was ‘hurry up!’”

“If I keep putting on nut No. 86 for about 86 more days, I will be nut no. 86 in the Pontiac nuthouse.”

1914, labor turnover 370%.

Daily absences averaged 10%.

Plan to Americanize new immigrants.

1914 The Five Dollar Day.

Ford Sociological Dept.

fired 900 Greek & Russian workers for celebrating traditional Christmas, “if these men are to make their home in America, they should observe American holidays… It causes too much confusion in the plant when nearly a thousand men fail to appear for work.”  

English classes – “melting-pot” graduation ceremony;

Within two years, 75% qualified for five-dollar day;

wife’s appeal - "he's too tired to make babies.”

“Ford whisper”

Charlie Chaplin 1936 “Modern Times”

Model T low as $290,

1.5 million per year,

by 1927, sold over 15 million.

mid 1920s, car-making leading US industry,

Widespread effects – steel, petroleum, rubber, glass, auto service;


"you can get a Model T in any color as long as it's black."

General Motors Alfred Sloan - annual model change, car for every purse, escalator of style - “keeping the customer dissatisfied”.  

Flexible mass production.

Innovations – electric self-starters, four-wheel brakes, better bearings, safety glass.

1927 Ford closed River Rouge - Model A.  

1920, every second motor vehicle in the world was a Model T. 


Clyde Barrow, “Even if my business ain’t been strictly legal, it don’t hurt anyone to tell you what a fine car you got.  I drive Fords exclusively – when I could get away with one.”

Ford for Senate 1918, lost by only 5,000 votes.

1920s, Ford-for-President clubs.

autobiography, My Life & Work - best-seller in Germany.

Adolf Hitler, “I am a great admirer of Ford.  I shall do my best to put his theories into practice in Germany.” Volkswagen. 

Communist soviets  - Fordson tractor.


1929, Muncie, Indiana, "Why on earth do you need to study what's changing this country?  I can tell you what's happening in just four letters:  A-U-T-O!"

“Imagine a healthier race of working men, toiling in cheerful & sanitary factories, who in the later afternoon, glide away in their own comfortable vehicles to their little farms or homes in the country or by the sea, twenty or thirty miles distant.” 

1906, “The automobile is the idol of the modern age.  The man who owns a motorcar gets for himself, the joys of touring, the adulation of the walking crowd. The daring driver of a racing machine that disappears in a thunder of explosions is a god to the women.”

Hollywood & Detroit


Leisure - “automobilitis – people who go off motoring on Sunday instead of going to church.”

“After days of hard mental effort in study or office, it is better than any medicine to push forward the lever & fly away with the ever-faithful & obedient automobile.  The restful pleasure & exhilaration that comes as we speed away… are the best cures for tired nerves.”

Auto touring – “gypsying”

“the strenuous life”, “in motoring, as in life, trouble gives character.”

1912 12 drove cross-country; 1921 20,000.

mid-1920s, 15 million Americans auto-camping every year - motels  1925;

rural life: “Bathtub?  You can’t go into town in a bathtub!” 

new social freedom – courting, lovers’ lane.

new "machine Age".