The automobile was first invented and perfected in Germany and France in the late 1800s, although Americans rapidly came to dominate the automotive trade within the first half of the 20th century. Henry Ford innovated mass-production techniques that grew to become standard, and Ford, General Motors and Chrysler emerged as the “Big Three” auto firms by the Nineteen Twenties. Manufacturers funneled their sources to the army during World War II, and afterward automobile manufacturing in Europe and Japan soared to meet growing demand. Once vital to the enlargement of American city centers, the business had become a shared international enterprise with the rise of Japan because the leading automaker by 1980.
Although the automobile was to have its best social and financial impact in the United States, it was initially perfected in Germany and France toward the tip of the nineteenth century by such males as Gottlieb Daimler, Karl Benz, Nicolaus Otto and Emile Levassor.
When Were Cars Invented?
The 1901 Mercedes, designed by Wilhelm Maybach for Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft, deserves credit score for being the primary trendy motorcar in all necessities.
Its thirty-five-horsepower engine weighed solely fourteen kilos per horsepower, and it achieved a top pace of fifty-three miles per hour. By 1909, with essentially the most built-in automobile manufacturing facility in Europe, Daimler employed some seventeen hundred employees to produce fewer than a thousand cars per yr.
Nothing illustrates the prevalence of European design better than the sharp contrast between this primary Mercedes mannequin and Ransom E. Olds‘ one-cylinder, three-horsepower, tiller-steered, curved-dash Oldsmobile, which was merely a motorized horse buggy. But the Olds sold for much less than $650, putting it inside attain of middle-class Americans, and the 1904 Olds output of 5,508 items surpassed any automobile manufacturing previously accomplished.
The central downside of automotive know-how over the first decade of the twentieth century can be reconciling the advanced design of the 1901 Mercedes with the reasonable worth and low operating bills of the Olds. This could be overwhelmingly an American achievement.
Henry Ford and William Durant
Bicycle mechanics J. Frank and Charles Duryea of Springfield, Massachusetts, had designed the first profitable American gasoline automobile in 1893, then gained the first American automotive race in 1895, and went on to make the primary sale of an American-made gasoline automobile the following 12 months.
Thirty American producers produced 2,500 motor automobiles in 1899, and some 485 firms entered the enterprise in the next decade. In 1908 Henry Ford introduced the Model T and William Durant based General Motors.
The new companies operated in an unprecedented seller’s market for an costly consumer goods merchandise. With its huge land space and a hinterland of scattered and isolated settlements, the United States had a far larger want for automotive transportation than the nations of Europe. Great demand was ensured, too, by a significantly greater per capita income and extra equitable earnings distribution than European international locations.
Given the American manufacturing custom, it was additionally inevitable that vehicles would be produced in larger quantity at decrease prices than in Europe. The absence of tariff limitations between the states encouraged sales over a wide geographic area. Cheap uncooked supplies and a persistent shortage of skilled labor early encouraged the mechanization of industrial processes in the United States.
This in flip required the standardization of merchandise and resulted within the quantity production of such commodities as firearms, stitching machines, bicycles, and lots of other gadgets. In 1913, the United States produced some 485,000 of the world complete of 606,124 motor automobiles.
The Ford Motor Company significantly outpaced its competitors in reconciling state-of-the-art design with moderate worth. Cycle and Automobile Trade Journal known as the four-cylinder, fifteen-horsepower, $600 Ford Model N ( ) “the very first occasion of a low-cost motorcar pushed by a gasoline engine having cylinders enough to offer the shaft a turning impulse in each shaft flip which is nicely constructed and supplied in giant numbers.” Deluged with orders, Ford put in improved manufacturing equipment and after 1906 was capable of make deliveries of 100 automobiles a day.
Encouraged by the success of the Model N, Henry Ford was decided to construct a fair higher “car for the good multitude.” The four-cylinder, twenty-horsepower Model T, first supplied in October 1908, sold for $825. Its two-speed planetary transmission made it easy to drive, and options such as its detachable cylinder head made it straightforward to repair. Its excessive chassis was designed to clear the bumps in rural roads. Vanadium metal made the Model T a lighter and harder automotive, and new strategies of casting parts (especially block casting of the engine) helped maintain the worth down.
Committed to large-volume manufacturing of the Model T, Ford innovated trendy mass production strategies at his new Highland Park, Michigan, plant, which opened in 1910 (although he did not introduce the moving meeting line till ). The Model T runabout sold for $575 in 1912, lower than the typical annual wage within the United States.
By the time the Model T was withdrawn from production in 1927, its price had been reduced to $290 for the coupe, 15 million units had been offered, and mass personal “automobility” had turn into a actuality.
Automotive Industry Growing Pains
Ford’s mass manufacturing strategies had been rapidly adopted by different American automobile manufacturers. (European automakers didn’t begin to make use of them till the Nineteen Thirties.) The heavier outlays of capital and larger volume of gross sales that this necessitated ended the period of easy entry and free-wheeling competitors among many small producers within the American industry.
The variety of energetic automobile manufacturers dropped from 253 in 1908 to solely forty four in 1929, with about eighty p.c of the industry’s output accounted for by Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler, fashioned from Maxwell in 1925 by Walter P. Chrysler.
Most of the remaining independents had been worn out within the Great Depression, with Nash, Hudson, Studebaker, and Packard hanging on solely to collapse within the post-World War II interval.
The Model T was supposed to be “a farmer’s car” that served the transportation wants of a nation of farmers. Its recognition was bound to wane because the country urbanized and as rural regions received out of the mud with passage of the 1916 Federal Aid Road Act and the 1921 Federal Highway Act.
Moreover, the Model T remained principally unchanged long after it was technologically out of date. Model T owners started to trade up to larger, sooner, smoother riding, more fashionable automobiles. The demand for basic transportation the Model T had met tended increasingly in the Twenties to be filled from the backlog of used automobiles piling up in dealers’ tons as the market grew to become saturated.
Car Sales Stall
By 1927 substitute demand for model spanking new automobiles was exceeding demand from first-time homeowners and multiple-car purchasers mixed. Given the incomes of the day, automakers might now not count on an increasing market. Installment sales had been initiated by the makers of moderately priced automobiles in 1916 to compete with the Model T, and by 1925 about three-quarters of all new vehicles were purchased “on time” via credit score.
Although a number of costly items, corresponding to pianos and sewing machines, had been offered on time earlier than 1920, it was installment sales of automobiles in the course of the twenties that established the buying of costly shopper items on credit score as a middle-class habit and a mainstay of the American financial system.
GM Introduces ‘Planned Obsolescence’
Market saturation coincided with technological stagnation: In both product and production know-how, innovation was turning into incremental rather than dramatic. The basic differences that distinguish post-World War II fashions from the Model T were in place by the late 1920s—the self-starter, the closed all-steel body, the high-compression engine, hydraulic brakes, syncromesh transmission and low-pressure balloon tires.
The remaining innovations—the computerized transmission and drop-frame construction—came in the Nineteen Thirties. Moreover, with some exceptions, automobiles were made a lot the identical method in the early 1950s as they’d been within the Nineteen Twenties.
To meet the challenges of market saturation and technological stagnation, General Motors beneath the leadership of Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., in the Nineteen Twenties and Nineteen Thirties innovated deliberate obsolescence of product and put a brand new emphasis on styling, exemplified in the largely beauty annual mannequin change—a deliberate triennial main restyling to coincide with the economics of die life and with annual minor face-liftings in between.
The objective was to make consumers dissatisfied sufficient to trade in and presumably as much as a more expensive new model long before the helpful lifetime of their current vehicles had ended. Sloan’s philosophy was that “the main object of the company … was to make money, not simply to make motorcars.” He believed that it was necessary solely that GM’s cars be “equal in design to one of the best of our rivals … it was not necessary to guide in design or to run the danger of untried experiments.”
Thus engineering was subordinated to the dictates of stylists and cost-cutting accountants. General Motors turned the archetype of a rational company run by a technostructure.
As Sloanism replaced Fordism as the predominant market strategy within the industry, Ford lost the sales lead within the lucrative low-priced subject to Chevrolet in 1927 and 1928. By 1936 GM claimed 43 % of the us market; Ford with 22 p.c had fallen to third place behind Chrysler with 25 p.c.
Although automobile gross sales collapsed in the course of the Great Depression, Sloan may boast of GM that “in no 12 months did the company fail to earn a profit.” (GM retained trade management till 1986 when Ford surpassed it in earnings.)
World War II and the Auto Industry
The automobile trade had played a important position in producing military automobiles and war matériel in the First World War. During World War II, along with turning out several million military vehicles, American automobile producers made some seventy-five essential navy objects, most of them unrelated to the motorized vehicle. These supplies had a total worth of $29 billion, one-fifth of the nation’s war manufacturing.
Because the manufacture of vehicles for the civilian market ceased in 1942 and tires and gasoline have been severely rationed, motorcar travel fell dramatically in the course of the war years. Cars that had been nursed by way of the Depression lengthy after they have been ready to be junked have been patched up further, ensuring nice pent-up demand for brand new automobiles on the war’s end.
Detroit’s Big Three carried Sloanism to its illogical conclusion in the postwar period. Models and choices proliferated, and every year cars turned longer and heavier, more powerful, extra gadget-bedecked, more expensive to buy and to function, following the truism that large vehicles are extra profitable to promote than small ones.
Rise of Japanese Automakers
Engineering in the postwar era was subordinated to the questionable aesthetics of nonfunctional styling at the expense of financial system and safety. And high quality deteriorated to the point that by the mid-1960s American-made vehicles have been being delivered to retail patrons with a median of twenty-four defects a unit, a lot of them safety-related. Moreover, the upper unit earnings that Detroit made on gas-guzzling “road cruisers” had been made on the social prices of elevated air pollution and a drain on dwindling world oil reserves.
The period of the annually restyled highway cruiser ended with the imposition of federal standards of automotive safety (1966), emission of pollutants (1965 and 1970), and vitality consumption (1975); with escalating gasoline costs following the oil shocks of 1973 and 1979; and particularly with the mounting penetration of both the U.S. and world markets first by the German Volkswagen “Bug” (a trendy Model T) after which by Japanese fuel-efficient, functionally designed, well-built small automobiles.
After peaking at a report 12.87 million models in 1978, gross sales of American-made cars fell to six.ninety five million in 1982, as imports increased their share of the us market from 17.7 % to 27.9 percent. In 1980 Japan turned the world’s main auto producer, a position it continues to hold.
U.S. Carmakers Retool
In response, the American automobile business in the Nineteen Eighties underwent a massive organizational restructuring and technological renaissance. Managerial revolutions and cutbacks in plant capability and personnel at GM, Ford and Chrysler resulted in leaner, more durable corporations with decrease break-even factors, enabling them to keep up earnings with decrease volumes in increasingly saturated, competitive markets.
Manufacturing high quality and programs of employee motivation and involvement got excessive priority. The industry in 1980 undertook a five-year, $80 billion program of plant modernization and retooling. Functional aerodynamic design changed styling in Detroit studios, because the annual cosmetic change was abandoned.
Cars grew to become smaller, extra fuel-efficient, less polluting and far safer. Product and manufacturing had been being more and more rationalized in a means of integrating computer-aided design, engineering and manufacturing.
Legacy of the U.S. Auto Industry
The automobile has been a key pressure for change in twentieth-century America. During the Twenties the trade grew to become the spine of a brand new client goods-oriented society. By the mid-1920s it ranked first in worth of product, and in 1982 it provided one out of every six jobs in the United States.
In the Nineteen Twenties the auto became the lifeblood of the petroleum business, one of the chief customers of the steel business, and the most important client of many different industrial merchandise. The technologies of those ancillary industries, particularly metal and petroleum, were revolutionized by its demands.
The automobile stimulated participation in outdoor recreation and spurred the growth of tourism and tourism-related industries, similar to service stations, roadside eating places and motels. The building of streets and highways, one of the largest gadgets of presidency expenditure, peaked when the Interstate Highway Act of 1956 inaugurated the biggest public works program in historical past.
The automobile ended rural isolation and brought urban amenities—most necessary, higher medical care and schools—to rural America (while paradoxically the farm tractor made the standard household farm obsolete). The modern city with its surrounding industrial and residential suburbs is a product of the car and trucking.
The automobile changed the architecture of the everyday American dwelling, altered the conception and composition of the urban neighborhood, and freed homemakers from the narrow confines of the home. No different historic force has so revolutionized the greatest way Americans work, live, and play.
In 1980, 87.2 percent of American households owned one or more motor vehicles, 51.5 p.c owned multiple, and fully 95 p.c of home automotive sales were for substitute. Americans have turn out to be truly auto-dependent.
But although automobile ownership is virtually universal, the motorcar not acts as a progressive drive for change. New forces—the digital media, the laser, the pc, and the robotic most likely foremost among them—are charting the long run. A interval of American historical past that may appropriately be known as the Automobile Age is melding into a brand new Age of Electronics.
The Reader’s Companion to American History. Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, Editors. Copyright © 1991 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.