Charles E. and J. Frank Duryea hardly could have imagined what their modest 5-hp contraption would wreak upon American life when they captured first place in the Chicago Times-Herald's 55-mile race on Thanksgiving Day 1895.
The brothers from Springfield, MA, capitalized on their celebrity by manufacturing 13 vehicles over the next year, not exactly mass production, but the first time more than one car was built from the same design in the United States. Two years later fraternal friction broke up their enterprise, although Charles started a new venture in Reading, PA, where he built a 3-cyl. car until 1914.
Today, a century later, Ward's Auto World takes a look back at what has become the most influential industry in this country's 220-year history. And imagine, for a few moments, where it may take us in the 21st Century.
From the iron-willed, relentless and resourceful entrepreneurs who bootstrapped the automobile through its infancy to the evolution of technology, labor relations, government regulation and automotive design, this commemorative edition contains 55 pages highlighting the industry's first century in America.
We also have included a bibliography in recognition of the scores of books and other resources we used in preparing this material (see p.5).
We hope you will enjoy reading this as much as the Ward's team enjoyed producing it.
It's a only a few blocks from lower Woodward Avenue where Charles Brady King and Oliver G. Barthel took Detroit's first sputtering automobile ride on March 6, 1896, to the sprawling Cobo Center where each January the industry that employs one in seven Americans displays its cutting-edge technology.
But only the most devout student of history can hope to grasp the distance that the motorized contraption has carried our culture, our psyches, our economy and our environment during its first 100 years of evolution.
No invention since has had a comparable impact. Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell came earlier, and their inventions naturally continue to have an enormous impact today.
Perhaps television has come close. Maybe the Internet will shape the next 100 years with a comparable sweep. And it's possible an equivalent breakthrough is decades into the future.
The 20th Century in the United States has belonged to the automobile, but the American auto industry no longer belongs just to American manufacturers. While the Big Three --Corp., Motor Co. and Corp.--survive from a roster of 3,000 ventures that took a crack at the business in its first half-century, Japanese automakers, plus BMW's new South Carolina factory, built 2.3 million, or 19%, of the 12 million cars and trucks produced in the U.S. last year.
Few would dispute that the international competition has renewed the industry's productivity and quality from a complacent stupor that shrouded it in the mid-1970's.
In the beginning, mechanical ingenuity, perseverance and more than a little cash was required, but a flair for promotion certainly helped. In 1897, Alexander Winton, the Cleveland-based automobile manufacturer, invited a reporter named Charles B. Shanks to ride with him during his drive from Cleveland to New York. When Mr. Winton made the same trip two years later, an estimated 1 million spectators lined up to see them along the route.
By the fall of 1901, Ransom E. Olds directed Roy D. Chapin, an Olds test driver who eight years later helped launch the Hudson Motor Car Co., to drive a curved-dash Oldsmobile from Detroit to the New York Auto Show. Mr. Chapin and the 1-cyl., tiller-steered machine endured the 820-mile (1,319-km) trek along muddy roads. Nine days later he pulled onto Manhattan island, having averaged 14 miles per hour (22.5 km/h).
Olds produced 2,500 cars in 1902 and 4,000 in 1903, capturing more than a third of the total U.S. market at that point.
But the man who would bring the car within reach of the masses was just getting started. Henryand his backers incorporated the Ford Motor Co. in 1903 with $28,000 in cash and $100,000 of stock, a dozen workers and a 12,500-sq.-ft. assembly plant in what is now downtown Detroit.
The majority of early motorists were doctors, lawyers, businessmen or engineers, so there was a natural tendency to develop heavier, more expensive touring cars.
Ford's principal investor, a coal merchant named Alexander Y. Malcomson, believed strongly that the fledgling enterprise should concentrate on the well-heeled customer. Mr. Ford did not.
Whatever eccentricities afflicted him in later years, Mr. Ford saw sustained growth only if the average American could buy into this dream of mobility. The 1906 Model N, with a 4-cyl., 15-hp engine and price of $600, embodied Mr. Ford's commitment. At the time he considered it his crowning achievement.
Within weeks, production zoomed to about 100 cars a day. Henry had proven his point. He bought out Mr. Malcomson. Work began on the Model T.
The moving assembly line, arguably the industry's most important breakthrough in its first century, debuted at Ford's Highland Park plant in 1913. Without it the automobile likely would have remained an expensive toy enjoyed by few outside the upper class.
Imagine any car company today promising to improve its highest-volume car each year and cut its price by more than 50% over its market life.
The Model T runabout sold for $825 and the touring car went for $850 when introduced in October 1908. Eight years later, the runabout was priced at $345 and the touring car $360.
The first assembly line was quite simple. Parts were set out in the sequence they were applied to the car. A frame was placed on skids and pulled along by a tow rope to where the axles and wheels were installed. A chain replaced the tow rope in 1914 at Ford's multi-storied Highland Park factory adjacent to Detroit, which opened in 1910 and today still stands as a storage facility.
Construction didn't begin until 1916 on the true temple of mass production, Ford's massive River Rouge complex, which later was immortalized in the murals of famed Mexican artist Diego Rivera, The Rouge, the Detroit Museum of Art. By 1927, this industrial behemoth (see photo, p.101) contained 27 miles of conveyors, 53,000 machine tools and a work force of 75,000 people.
But competitors were rapidly learning the same techniques. Hudson surpassed Ford in productivity around 1926 by compressing its assembly process to 90 minutes for each car. Customers clamored for new styling. The Model T was losing its luster.
By then the automobile was overhauling far more than our theories of industrial production.
Except for Southern California, where a mild climate and a sprawling interurban streetcar system blazed the trail for what would become the nation's most auto-dependent culture, rural America witnessed the most profound change.
In the densely populated cities, workers could usually walk to their factories. Essential services and community centers were, at most, a streetcar ride away. Down on the farm, the amenities of city life were only a few tankfuls away. Attractions once only imagined through the word pictures of radio were finally accessible to direct experience.
As early as 1926, more than 90% of farm families in Iowa owned automobiles, while nationwide only 56% of all households owned a car.
The Great Depression rudely interrupted the industry's growth. While the industry had contributed to the World War I effort, World War II required automakers to convert their vastly larger industrial empires from production of cars to guns, bullets, tanks, bombs and airplanes. Women flocked into previous all-male factories. Consumption, beyond the bare necessities of life, was put on hold. Not until the early '50s would the percentage of Americans owning a car approach the level of 1929.
Yet neither economic collapse nor global conflict could impede the fundamental shifts these evolving personal chariots were triggering in our rituals of courtship, our criminal behavior, our movies and our morals.
In quintessential American fashion, there was no consensus on this issue.
In 1921, E.C. Stokes, a Trenton banker and former governor of New Jersey, praised the automobile as the most pro-family influence outside of the church. "Any device that brings the family together in the pursuit of pleasure is a promoter of good morals ... The automobile is one of the country's best ministers," Mr. Stokes proclaimed.
In contrast, sociologists Robert and Helen Lynd, in a 1929 study of Muncie, IN, blamed the family car, specifically conflict over its use, as a major source of inter-generational conflict.
Clearly, courtship was no longer confined to the stifling limits of the front porch, parlor sofas and mothers' watchful eyes.
While Calvinists such as Henry Ford purposefully designed the Model T's seat so short as to discourage sexual intercourse, other manufacturers responded to young drivers' more libidinous tendencies.
The 1925 Jewett featured a fold-down bed. Nash introduced bed conversions in its 1937 models. More recent examples of automotive designs aimed at accommodating lustful instincts include the conversion vans of the '70s, which University of Michigan historian David L. Lewis has called "the most sexually oriented vehicles ever built."
Meanwhile, the car commanded a sweeping change in our culinary customs. Royce Hailey's Pig Stand in Dallas was the first documented drive-in restaurant, opening in 1921. Like bluebonnets after a Texas spring thunderstorm, these stands sprouted up all over the suburban landscape. In the '50s carhops began giving way to drive-throughs. Thanks to the late Ray Kroc's refinement of assembly-line food preparation in his mushrooming McDonald's empire, there are now more fast-food outlets than traffic lights across the expanding exurban landscape.
Richard M. Hollingshead Jr. premiered the first drive-in movie theater in Camden, NJ, on June 6, 1933, and quickly franchised the concept. It didn't really catch on until the '50s, when at their peak of popularity in 1958 there were 4,063 outdoor screens in the U.S. Today they have fallen prey to the enclosed-mall multiplex cinemas, rising land values and our insular addiction to 80-plus-channel cable television.
While our viewing habits may have moved back indoors, the automobile remains as central to cinematic tastes as sex, comedy or violence. From the Keystone Kops to Steve McQueen and his Mustang in pursuit of a Dodge Charger in Bullitt to the slow-motion bloodbath of Bonnie and Clyde to Burt Reynold's transcontinental trek in a Trans Am in Smokey and the Bandit, and James Bond's gadget-laden Aston-Martin (more recently, theZ3), perhaps the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences could create a new category: most creative use of a motor vehicle.
Meanwhile, as we spend more time each day in traffic, conducting more of our professional and personal lives from cellular phones and faxes, we sometimes wonder where this unimpeded wanderlust is taking us.
Distant communities our grandparents regarded as vacation retreats have become our "edge city" homes, as far from the crime-ridden, blighted urban cores -- and the new art form of carjacking -- as our information-age agility and our incomes can take us.
"We shall solve the city problem by leaving the city," Henry Ford declared. We have been faithful disciples.
Industry executives may ridicule government subsidies to mass transit or Amtrak, but the $27 billion spent constructing 41,000 miles (65,969 km) of roadways under the Interstate Highway Act of 1956 stands to this date as the most ambitious public works project in U.S. history.
And as rush-hour commuters in Los Angeles, Atlanta or Washington, DC, will attest, some days it seems inadequate.
Through intelligent vehicle highway systems, computers will regulate speeds, restrict access to certain roads and more effectively warn drivers of bottlenecks up ahead. Whether that cuts the amount of driving we do is unclear.
Telecommuting should be made easier as the Internet evolves, as companies continue to rely on an expanding pool of independent contractors and as downsized corporate foot soldiers launch their own businesses. But it will probably take a crisis to spur lasting change in our profligacy.
Policy wonkism, such as the Partnership for a New Generation Vehicle that aims for an 80-mpg (34 km/l) lightweight car, may seem quaint as we cruise along in $30,000 sport/utilities that get 18 mpg (7.6 km/l) or less.
Bureaucrats are going to find a way to build the equivalent of a Ford Taurus that gets 80 mpg? Yeah, right.
But don't laugh too hard. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries may not wallow in disarray forever. Just as California relaxes its 1998 mandate for zero-emission electric cars, the industry seems more motivated than ever in pushing battery and hybrid technologies to new levels. Remember: Even Lee Iacocca changed his tune about air bags.
As automakers learn from building small, affordable vehicles for the emerging markets of Asia and eastern Europe where gasoline costs five times what it does here, the trend toward more efficient, lighter-weight designs will generate applications that can sell in the U.S. Already concepts such as's "cab-forward" design encourage more compact engines and more spacious interiors, both of which reinforce the direction in which hybrid cars are moving.
Four years ago, GM displayed the Ultralite, a concept car that shoehorned the equivalent of a Chevrolet Corsica interior into the body of aMiata. Wrapped in a carbon-fiber body and powered by a tiny three-cylinder aluminum engine, it can reach a top speed of 135 mph (218 km/h) and accelerates from 0 to 60 mph (0-97 Km/h) in 7.8 seconds. At a feather-like 1,400 lbs. (635 kg), the Ultralite can perform at that level and still turn in 62 mpg.
Carbon fiber is still very expensive. But so was the 1904 surrey-top Oldsmobile at $1,250. No trend lasts forever. No adaptation is out of reach. May the next century's ride be as wondrous as the first.