Saturday, August 8, 2015

Why WWI is an important episode in the history of the automobile in America

Hi folks -- it is WWI centennial time, and it is propitious to reexamine this period with the lens of automobile history in America. I almost totally neglected this topic in my The Automobile and American Life, with the exception of my discussion of women and the automobile. That was a huge oversight! Recently I have been reading up on this era, looking particularly at some secondary sources that do examine the topic as well as specific artless included in the New York Times.
Here are some reasons why one should not neglect the era when doing auto history:

1) the establishment of standards, which accelerated during the war and continued afterwords. From 200 tire sizes the standards movement pushed manufacturers to use only 32.
2) the rise of the S.A.E. in terms of importance, transitioning from a fringe group to one central to understanding the technology of the automobile in America.
3) the explosion in the manufacture of trucks, the recognition of their importance in the movement of freight, and the beginning of the decline of railroads, particularly for short hauls.
4) the linkage between automobile engine technology and aviation engine design, as exemplified by the Liberty engine project.
5) the beginnings of Du Pont family influence on General Motors, and initial reorganization efforts. 6) increased capitalization throughout the entire industry.
7) a gasoline shortage, real or imagined, and a voluntary Sunday driving abstinence day.  An emphasis on fuel economy led to carburetor improvements.
8) More and more interest and demand for closed cars. We tend to see this as a trend that occurred beginning in the early 1920s. Not true -- this is a main topic going back to 1917.

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