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Technology and Culture Volume 37, Number 4 (October 1996)
© 1996 by the Society for the History of Technology. All rights reserved.

Index of online articles § Technology and Culture

Essay

A Century of Automobility

Rudi Volti

When Charles E. and J. Frank Duryea along with a few associates put together thirteen crude automobiles in 1896 for sale to the public, they likely had no notion that they were participating in the creation of a system of transportation that would profoundly alter American life. In the hundred years that have followed, the automobile has brought such massive changes that we are still trying to comprehend its full significance. Our relationship with the automobile has always been a complex one, and its history throws into sharp relief the myriad ways in which technology and culture shape each another.

The automobile has been the subject of a vast literature, most of it devoted to particular cars,1 motorsports2 , and do-it-yourself repair and modification. But as a subject of scholarly inquiry the automobile remains vastly under-examined. There is certainly no lack of glib generalizations about the automobile and its consequences, though most rest upon a slim basis of evidence.3 To take one notable example: we can state with some confidence that the automobile played a role in changing sexual mores, but we have in fact very little substantive support for that claim.4 It is a topic that would benefit from systematic research; this essay will, on occasion, note others.

The Genesis of Mass Automobility

The bicycle craze of the 1890s revealed a hunger for personal transportation,although the cantankerousness of early automobiles made them unlikely candidates for this role.5 "Personal transportation," of course, has never been simply a matter of getting from point A to point B; generations of hikers, horseback riders, and bicyclists could attest to the maxim that the journey is often more important than the destination. Early automobiles provided the pleasure inherent in physical travel, to which was added the fascination of mechanisms that worked tolerably well at times, and fell mysteriously silent at others. Rising to the challenges presented by primitive carburetors, magnetos, and pneumatic tires appealed to many motorists, and was of even greater significance for manufacturers. For many pioneers of automobile production, a strong dose of technological enthusiasm was at least as important a motivator as the chance of turning a profit.6 As with all significant innovations, the history of the automobile shows that technological advance is fueled by more than economic calculation.

To be sure, enthusiasm, technological or otherwise, gets you only so far--as thousands of failed automotive entrepreneurs would sadly attest. The automobile industry also needed an abundant supply of financial capital. Many early entrepreneurs kept their firms going on cash flows provided by the sale of their products, but the ones that flourished needed a sounder financial footing. Many of them found it; like biotechnology stocks in the 1980s, the early automobile industry generated intense interest among investors. 7

Some of the funds sunk into the fledgling industry were irretrievably lost, but many investments bore fruit because manufacturers were already familiar with production processes that in a general way could be shifted to the manufacture of automobiles. Most early manufacturers had some experience with industrial products and production, even if they were only remotely connected to making cars; early automotive industrialists included men who oversaw the manufacture of everything from locomotives (Walter P. Chrysler) to plumbing fixtures (David Dunbar Buick). One firm, the Smith Automobile Company of Topeka, Kansas, was in the business of making hernia trusses before (and after) taking up automobile manufacturing. Almost equally offbeat was the origin of the renowned Pierce-Arrow. George N. Pierce began as a manufacturer of bird cages, which led him to the manufacture of spokes for the wheels for bicycles. This was followed by the production of complete bicycles and, finally, automobiles.8

Like several other American cars of the time, early Pierce-Arrows were powered by DeDion-Bouton engines imported from France, the nation that led the world in automotive production at the end of the 19th century.9 Its lead was short-lived; by 1904 American manufacturers had surpassed their French counterparts as the world's largest makers of automobiles. The United States lagged in the technological development of the early automobile, but American firms were second to none in manufacturing technology. Thus was set a pattern that endured for decades: the United States would lead the world in the development and adoption of advanced production technologies, while the products themselves were anything but avant-garde.

Some of the manifest technological conservatism of American automobiles was itself the result of advanced manufacturing methods, especially the standardization necessary for large production runs. Standardization usually has the effect of "locking in" a technology, sometimes causing it to endure long after it has ceased to be optimal.10 Widespread automobile ownership also may have dampened technological progress. By the second decade of the 20th century a significant percentage of adult Americans owned and operated cars, and most of them had little interest in the technical details of their vehicles. Technological novelty carried no marketing advantage when a large segment of the buying public had already begun to look upon the automobile as little more than an appliance. By way of contrast, in times and places where the car has yet to become an item of mass consumption, technological sophistication is likely to be an important selling point. In 1913, when automobile ownership in the United States was more than twice as common as it was in Britain,11 a British observer noted that "the American buyer never inquires about mechanism. He wishes to know merely what price you want for a car that will go and if it does not go when he gets it there is trouble... He has paid for his car, and he is going to do what he pleases with it without any feeling for mechanics at all; whereas the average European buyer knows, or, at least, likes to think he knows, a good deal about the mechanical details of his chassis."12 At the time these comments were written there was little doubt about the kind of powerplant that sat under the hood; it was almost invariably a gasoline-fueled internal combustion engine (ICE). An examination of how this came to be provides an object lesson for an issue that has been of considerable interest to historians of technology: the process of technological choice, and how it is determined by more than technical considerations pure and simple. In retrospect, the choice of the internal combustion engine seems straightforward, especially when the deficiencies of its two rivals, steam and electricity, are taken into account. The thermal efficiency of steam power was well below even the underdeveloped gasoline engines of the time, while the warm-up time a steamer required could be more of a bother than the sometimes dangerous practice of starting a gasoline engine by vigorously swinging a crank. Electric cars held no such terrors, but their range was limited, as was their over-the-road performance.13

The shortcomings of steamers and electrics related to their technical characteristics, but they were significant only because cars had to serve in a multiplicity of roles. If the automobile had remained primarily a device for recreation, the steam-powered car might have maintained a larger niche, for the demands that it made upon its driver were viewed by some as an enjoyable challenge. The legendary Stanley Steamer was festooned with gauges that required regular attention: boiler water level, steam pressure, main tank fuel pressure, pilot tank fuel pressure, oil sight glass, and tank water level. Just to get one started required the manipulation of thirteen valves, levers, handles, and pumps.14 The electric car served admirably as an around-town runabout, but most drivers wanted some dash and excitement in their motoring, even when their cars were largely employed for mundane purposes.15 The electric also suffered from the fatal defect of being identified as a "woman's car," a major failing at a time when the automobile was tightly intertwined with masculine culture.16

The early history of the automobile shows that its overwhelming commercial success was not exclusively due to the mobility it offered. Then, as now, cars provided privacy and a sense of power, two things that always have been in short supply in human societies. This trend was reinforced by subsequent technological developments, such as closed bodies and more powerful engines. Much of the appeal of the automobile stems from its ability to confer a measure of insulation from the outside world while providing at least the illusion of power. The private automobile is a greedy creature that makes vast claims on space, resources, and the budgets of its owners; only a device that promised more than transportation could have been so successful.

An Industry Emerges

At the beginning of the 20th century, only a few were able to sample the delights of automobiling; most early automobiles were purchased by the well-to-do, for whom they served as high-priced toys. But before long the American automobile was enjoying a much larger customer base. As early as 1900 some American cars were being made in respectable numbers, led by the Columbia electric with 1,500 and the steam-powered Locomobile at 750. Among the manufacturers of early ICE-powered automobiles the leader was Ransom E. Olds, who produced 425 curved-dash Oldsmobiles in 1901, and 2,500 in the year that followed.

Large-scale manufacture rested on the use of interchangeable parts that obviated the need for expensive hand-fitting of components. A striking demonstration of American manufacturing technology came in 1908, when three Cadillacs were shipped to Britain and disassembled by officials of the Royal Automobile Club. The parts were mixed together and re-assembled into complete cars that were then driven for 500 miles with no evident problems. In recognition of this successful demonstration, the Royal Automobile Club awarded its Dewar Trophy for automotive achievement to Cadillac. These early Cadillacs were made by a company that had taken over the remnants of the Detroit Automobile Company, a firm that folded before it had sold any cars. It is therefore a nice irony that the full extent of mass production was exploited by the man for whom the abortive Detroit Automobile Co. had been founded: Henry Ford. Ford's Model T, first produced toward the end of 1908, soon became the company's sole product, occupying this status until 1927. By that time more than 15 million had been made, a record that stood until Volkswagen finally surpassed it in the 1970s.17

The productivity increases that made these numbers possible were the result of a vast number of inventions and innovations, most of them unexamined by historians. Among them were the development of special-purpose machine tools, go-no-go gauges, fast-drying paints, improved glassmaking procedures, pneumatic tools, the development of metal stamping machines for large panels, as well as the apotheosis of industrial production technology, the assembly line. Unlike most other automotive production technologies, the assembly line has not lacked for scholarly attention. Indeed, interest in the assembly line has been well out of proportion to its numerical significance; even in the 1950s, when a much higher percentage of the American labor force was made up of blue-collar workers, fewer than 5 percent of manual workers labored on assembly lines.18 But "the line" has worked its way into our consciousness as the prime example of everything that is demeaning, inhumane, and alienating about industrial production.19 The fascination with assembly lines has given us a far greater literature on automobile workers than exists on secretaries, cashiers, and janitors, even though they have been far more numerous than automobile workers of every type.

While Ford was pushing the limits of standardization and assembly-line production, General Motors was pursuing a strategy that allowed it to pass Ford in total sales, and to secure for itself the top position in the American car industry.20 Under the leadership of Alfred Sloan, GM developed marketing practices that reshaped the industry. One of these was the enshrinement of styling as the prime means of attracting buyers. Following the establishment in 1927 of the Art and Color Section (later the Styling Section) headed by Harley Earl, GM products became industry style leaders. The basic engineering of their products differed little from that of their rivals, but the gospel of longer/lower/wider helped to solidify GM's status as the world's biggest car manufacturer. The importance of styling was reinforced by GM's invention of the annual model year. Every September a group of "all-new" GM cars would make their much-publicized appearance, presumably sowing discontent among millions of drivers whose own cars had sunk deeper into obsolescence. GM also made good use of the clear status hierarchy of its products. Customers might begin their automotive careers with Chevrolets, but future financial success allowed the purchase of something even better from the GM stable--an Oldsmobile, a Buick, or even a Cadillac for those who had reached the pinnacle of success. To be sure, few people had the financial resources to cover the purchase price of even a new Chevrolet, but GM made sure that this did not remain an obstacle. Whereas Henry Ford expected payment in full from his customers, GM created the General Motors Acceptance Corporation (GMAC) to facilitate buying a car on credit. A major financial institution in its own right, GMAC initiated millions of GM customers into the delights of making payments for cars that had grown old and tired long before they had been paid off.

The combination of advanced production technologies and equally advanced marketing strategies resulted in the development of America's premier industrial sector. In the mid-1990s, the manufacture of American cars was responsible for 4.5 percent of the U.S. gross national product. Alongside automobile manufacture, most other industries are pygmies. In the 1995 fiscal year, much-publicized Microsoft had revenues of $5.94 billion, a tidy figure to be sure, but rather paltry when placed next to the $168.83 billion that GM took in.21 And despite years of corporate downsizing, the automobile is still the basis of about one out of every seven jobs in the United States. The last decade has seen an erosion of direct employment in automobile manufacturing, but the car industry as a whole provides millions of jobs for repair technicians, insurance agents, service station attendants, sales personnel, police officers, and the myriad other occupations essential to the maintenance of automobility.

What is American about American Cars?

One of the great achievements of the automobile industry has been to disguise the fact that its products are mass-produced objects that have been designed to hold production costs to a minimum. More than any other industrially-produced item, the automobile has succeeded in capturing the fancy of potential customers through appeals that go well beyond the utilitarian. Since technological novelty or even technological sophistication has seldom been of much interest to American drivers, the commercial success of the American automobile has been driven by styling.22 And at the same time, the styling of the American automobile has been distinctively American.

Several features of the American economy and society have contributed to the emergence of an American automotive style. One obvious feature of American cars has been their size. For example, a 1930 Ford Model A roadster, the smallest Ford sold, weighed 2,155 pounds; a contemporary British Austin 7 weighed a mere 935 pounds. In the years that followed, both American and European cars got bigger, but the differences remained. A 1969 Chevrolet Impala was nearly 19 feet long and weighed 3,835 pounds. An Opel Rekord, the product of General Motors' European operation , was less than 14 feet in length and weighed 2,050 pounds.

Some of this differential can be explained in terms of relative levels of economic prosperity; for most people at most times, richer has meant bigger. International comparisons of incomes are notoriously tricky, but there can be little doubt that throughout most of the 20th century Americans have led the world in per capita income. One comparison can be made by looking at the wages of automobile workers themselves. In 1910, at the dawning of the age of mass automobility, an American worker earned $2.70 a day. His French, British, German, and Italian equivalents earned $1.90, $1.57, $1.30, and $1.06, respectively.23 When incomes are compared with prices, the difference with the rest of the world becomes even more evident. For the statistically average worker, a new 1925 Model T cost the equivalent of three months' wages; an Austin 7 was simply beyond the realm of possibility for a British worker. At the same time, however, many of the buyers of American automobiles were in precarious economic straits, and running a car meant the sacrifice of other consumption items. To note one example, from the 1920s until about 1950 a higher percentage of American households owned an automobile than had telephones.24 The costs of buying and operating a car were several times greater than the costs of residential phone service, but the latter was still not a negligible amount. Since the automobile and the telephone served functions that overlapped to a certain extent, one could be seen as at least a partial substitute for the other. And when a choice between the two had to be made--and many people had to make this choice--more households opted for the automobile.25 Indeed, until World War II, at least, the automobile was more "classless" than the telephone.

The emergence of a distinctly American style of automobile also can be explained in part by government policies that protected the domestic market, and in so doing helped to establish an insular automotive culture. In the early days of motoring, foreign cars never had much of a chance of racking up significant sales when their products had a 45 percent tariff imposed on them.26 In 1913 the tariff on automobiles was reduced to 30 percent for cars costing under $2,000, but by this time the issue was moot; the superior production technology of Ford and other American manufacturers left no opening for imports.27

Fuel costs significantly lower than in most other nations have also been of great importance for the general design of American cars. The availability of domestic petroleum helped to hold down the cost of gasoline, but the greatest difference with much of the world is to be found in the level of fuel taxes. Introduced in a few states in 1919, gasoline taxes were universal within ten years, but unlike the governments of most other nations, state and federal governments did not use gasoline taxes as major sources of general revenue. Political influence by oil companies, car manufacturers, and other interested parties insured that taxes would be kept low, and that they would be used largely for the financing of road construction and maintenance. Low gasoline prices made fuel economy a secondary concern for most drivers. Because fuel economy was not of paramount importance, American cars could be equipped with large, slow-revving engines that reduced gear-changing to a minimum. Even this was too much for many drivers; the first successful automatic transmissions appeared in the late 1930s, another development that was facilitated by a lack of concern with making the most efficient use of gasoline.28

To be sure, the low price of gasoline was only an enabling factor; large cars with big engines suited a vast, open country. It is also significant that the biggest cars with the greatest stylistic excesses emerged in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when the oligopolistic control of the industry was at its height and styling constituted the main avenue of product differentiation. As noted above, American cars have historically lagged in the adoption of advanced technologies. With the exception of automatic transmissions, virtually every significant postwar automotive technology used for production cars first appeared in other countries: fuel injection, disc brakes, independent rear suspensions, overhead camshaft engines, front wheel drive, and radial tires, to name the most significant. American car manufacturers had little interest in blazing technological trails that, in their estimation, few customers would follow. By the late 1950s, the American automobile had become a parody of itself, a tailfinned, chrome-encrusted body sitting on top of a pathetically underdeveloped chassis.

Embodying all of these shortcomings was Ford's Edsel, a name now synonymous with failed grandiosity. First appearing as a 1958 model, it lasted only three years, a victim of misbegotten styling and an inconvenient economic recession. The marketing failure of the Edsel demonstrated, in a highly public way, that the buying public was losing interest in bizarre grilles and plenty of chrome. Even so, Ford came through the Edsel debacle with no long-lasting financial wounds. The runaway success of the Mustang, introduced in the spring of 1964, seemed to indicate that the manufacture and marketing of American automobiles was nicely insulated from the world and its constraints. Yet within a few years the economic and political environment in which the American automobile operated began to change in ways that few had foreseen.

The Assault on the Automobile

In 1953 the president of General Motors, Charles E. Wilson, did not say "what is good for General Motors is good for the country."29 Even so, this pseudo-quotation has often been repeated as an example of the matchless arrogance of postwar automotive industry leaders. By the time that Wilson made his alleged remark, Arlie Haagen-Smit, a chemist at the California Institute of Technology, had already found abundant evidence that automotive emissions were a major cause of the thick blanket of smog that had become a depressingly common feature of the Southern California environment. In typical fashion, the industry denied that there was any such connection. But when the evidence became overwhelming, first the government of the state of California and then the federal government began to throw a regulatory noose around the automobile. As had happened before, a deficient technology provided a stimulus for governmental intervention. Just as in the early 19th century the tragic explosion of steamboat boilers had given rise to the first instance of federal regulation,automobile-induced problems impelled action by the federal government.30 The regulations that ensued had a profound effect on automotive technology.

The regulation of automotive emissions began in California with the mandated installation of positive crankcase ventilation (PCV) valves on all 1963 model cars in order to prevent the escape of unburned hydrocarbons from engine crankcases. This helped, but it did nothing to address the major source of pollution, tailpipe emissions. Accordingly, in 1966 the state began to set limits on exhaust emissions. The federal government then took the lead with the passage of the 1970 Clean Air Act, which, among other things, established emissions standards for motor vehicles, to go into effect during the 1975 fiscal year. Difficulties in meeting these standards led to congressional passage of a number of waivers, but amendments to the Clean Air Act passed in 1990 stipulated the phasing-in of stricter standards.31 Federal regulations have led to dramatic reductions of automotive emissions; as a group, cars manufactured during the 1990s produce about one-tenth the emissions of cars manufactured in 1970. Lower emissions have translated into cleaner air; in Southern California, ozone concentrations, a key component of photochemical smog, fell from 0.58 parts per million in 1970 to 0.33 parts per million in 1990--even though the vehicle population went from 6.4 million to 10.6 million during this period.32

Emissions regulations had their intended effect because they served to accelerate the development of a host of pollution-control technologies: fuel injection, computerized engine management systems, unleaded gasoline, exhaust gas recirculation (EGR), and catalytic converters. In effect, a 19th-century technology, the internal combustion engine, had been given a reprieve by the application of late-20th century technologies. The ICE-powered automobile was saved by a technological fix, but this fix was the product of substantial governmental intervention.

Government activism also was one of the forces impelling the design of safer cars. The initial impetus, however, came from another quarter. Throughout the century, books by the titans of the auto industry had celebrated the automobile, the companies that made them, and the men who had made the companies.33 In 1965 a very different book appeared, one that was destined to exert at least as much influence over its readers as the books by Ford, Sloan, and Chrysler had over theirs. The book was Unsafe at Any Speed; its author was a little-known lawyer named Ralph Nader.34 Although hyperbolic in places, Nader's book did point to a number of design features that increased the dangers of an accident. Unsafe at Any Speed did not create the safety movement ex nihilo, but it served to catalyze a growing concern over the dangers of driving. Perhaps an increasingly safety-conscious public would have eventually demanded safer cars anyway, but the 1960s were an era of activist government, and the mandating of safety features enjoyed considerable public support.

The process began in 1966 with congressional passage of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act, and the establishment of an agency under the Department of Commerce charged with the setting of safety standards. This agency subsequently became the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an agency of the Department of Transportation. The immediate result of safety legislation and administration was a host of standards required for 1967 model year cars: seat belts, padded dashboards, dual braking systems, and standard bumper heights, to name only a few. The most contentious issue centered on passive restraints. Attempts to encourage seat belt use through the use of ignition interlocks met with massive customer resistance, and these were scrapped by Congress in 1976. General Motors found only a tepid consumer interest in airbags when it offered them as an option on some of its cars beginning with the 1974 model year. Apparent lack of customer demand notwithstanding, in 1984 the federal government stipulated that all cars manufactured after 1990 had be equipped with passive safety restraints of some kind. Motorized seat belts failed to win a following, leaving the airbag as the technology of choice. By 1994, more than 11 million driver-side airbags and 6 million passenger-side airbags had gone into domestic automobiles. By this time, consumer views had shifted markedly, and airbags had become an important marketing feature.35

While the builders and buyers of American cars were trying to assimilate the changes made necessary by emissions and safety regulations, a third shock hit the industry. In 1973, in the wake of war in the Middle East, the oil-exporting nations of that region cut off sales of their oil to the United States.36 The gasoline that had literally powered the American automotive culture suddenly became a scarce commodity, even though most of the disruption was the result of actions by panicked buyers rather than real shortages. The energy crisis of 1973 was a short-lived phenomenon, but history repeated itself in 1979 when the Iranian revolution produced another temporary crisis.

The response of the federal government to these perceived crises was a set of mandates aimed at reducing fuel consumption. The process began with the 1975 Energy Policy and Conservation Act, which required a Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) of 27.5 miles per gallon by 1985. This standard was to be achieved in stages, beginning with a CAFE of 18 mpg for the 1978 model year. Noncompliance brought a penalty of $5 for each .1 mile per gallon that a manufacturer's CAFE below that year's standard, multiplied by the manufacturer's total production for that year. In 1978, Congress added a "gas guzzler" tax that penalized the buyers of cars that fell significantly below CAFE standards.37 But at no time did the federal government seriously contemplate the simplest and least intrusive means of diminishing fuel consumption: enacting a substantial rise in the tax on gasoline. Elected officials knew all too well that support of such a tax would have unfortunate consequences when voters cast their ballots.

After decades of insulation from adverse political currents, the emergence of air pollution, safety, and fuel economy as public policy issues thrust the American automobile industry into an unfamiliarly vulnerable position. Government regulation did more than affect automotive design and performance; it challenged the automobile's place in American society. Concerns about safety, gasoline shortages, and disgust with smog caused by auto emissions all combined to erode an automotive culture that only a few years earlier had soared like the tailfins of a 1958 Chrysler. And the hardest blow was still to come.

For more than five decades, the cars of America had been made in America. In 1957, sales of a foreign car, the Volkswagen, for the first time surpassed the sales of some American makes. The VW went on to still greater sales successes, but an even more disquieting trend emerged in the 1970s, as Japanese cars began to take a growing share of the American car market. In retrospect, a comment made by a motoring journalist in 1907 seems uncannily prescient: "Americans and Englishmen and Frenchmen will have some day found in Japan a competitor in the manufacture of motor cars. There is nothing that escapes [a Japanese]--he is out to learn and to improve after he has learned--he is a good one to watch."38 In fact, it took decades for that potential to be realized, but when it was it affected not just the American automobile industry, but America's view of itself. Just as in 1957 many Americans feared that Sputnik signalled the end of American technological supremacy, so the technological and commercial success of Japanese automobiles provided a painful lesson to an industry and a society grown complacent. Throughout the 1970s and much of the 1980s the superior quality and reliability of Japanese automobiles became evident, and sales figures reflected this perception. By 1980 1.8 million Japanese cars were being imported into the United States, about 20 percent of the cars sold in that year. By 1989, cars from Japanese manufacturers (some of which were by then being built in the United States) accounted for nearly 2.5 million sales and more than 25 percent of the total.

The penetration of Japanese cars led the Reagan administration, nominal supporters of free trade, to negotiate "voluntary marketing agreements" with Japanese manufacturers in 1981. This slowed down the expansion of sales somewhat, but it had two other consequences of much greater long-term importance. First, since the Japanese were restricted in the number of cars that could be imported, they now had a strong incentive to produce higher-priced cars. Their response was not long in coming; within a few years American roads were plied by luxury cars bearing names never seen before: Acura, Infiniti, and Lexus. Second, import quotas made Japanese car companies more willing to relocate a substantial portion of their manufacturing operations to the United States.

The new plants were mostly located in places like Tennessee and Kentucky, areas with a young labor force and a tradition of nonunion labor. The use of nonunion labor in most of the factories producing Japanese transplants was emblematic of the ebbing of organized labor's influence within the automobile industry; conversely, membership declines accounted for much of the erosion of union strength. Beginning with the $5 day at Ford, the automobile industry historically provided good-paying jobs to low-skilled workers,39 but in recent years the American automobile industry has exemplified a familiar pattern in industrial America, as robots and other productivity-enhancing technologies have sharply diminished the labor needs of the industry. To take only one example, the Ford Motor Company made about as many cars in 1988 as it did in 1978, but used half as many production workers to do so.40 Not coincidentally, the loss of good-paying jobs in the automobile manufacturing sector and elsewhere has excluded a large number of potential customers from the new-car market. In 1993, when the median income of American households was $37,000, the median income of households purchasing a new car was $52,000.41

Automobiles and the Built Environment

As much as any other artifact, policy, or cultural pattern, the automobile has profoundly reshaped the built environment. Its first and most obvious effect has been on the building of roads; the evolution of the automobile is inseparable from the road on which it has traveled.42 When the present century began, the U.S. road system could only be described as appalling. Once outside major cities, roads were dusty tracks that turned to mud when the rains came. The difficulty of long-distance travel by car is illustrated by the first transcontinental car trip, a 1903 journey from San Francisco to New York that required more than two months. Today, the Interstate Highway System allows effortless--and often mind-numbing--travel through the forty-eight contiguous states of the union. Conceived in the 1940s and initiated by the Interstate Highway Act of 1956, the system was originally justified as a means of evacuating people and moving materiel in the event of a major war. Still incomplete, the 42,000-mile Interstate Highway System is the largest civil engineering project in human history. It has made long-distance travel much safer, faster, and more convenient, but its effects on the landscape and the settled areas it bisects have not always been benign.43 At the same time, the building and maintenance of the system represented a political and financial commitment to a car- and truck-based land transportation system and for many years the foreclosure of alternative modes of transportation; not until 1973 could a portion of the federal Highway Trust Fund be allocated to urban mass transit.44

The Interstates, along with nearly four million miles of other roads, give witness to the domination of a car-based transportation system. This system has brought with it many of the most evident features of the built environment: strip development, shopping malls, motels, and fast food, to name only the most obvious manifestations.45 Above all, the automobile has been tightly linked with the suburbanization of America.46

Suburbanization was not simply a consequence mass automobilization; other cultural forces also have been at work. Still, modes of transportation have done much to shape residential patterns, a process that began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when the development of trolley transportation facilitated a widespread exodus from the city.47 Trolley suburbs tended to a radial form, as residential lots had to be within a walking distance to the tracks. With the rise of mass automobile ownership, suburbs could sprawl over all available land, limited only by what was considered a bearable commuting time. This phenomenon has not been confined to residential life. Automobiles (and trucks) also have allowed the deconcentration of business and industry; as a result, in most places the typical commute is not from suburb to central city, but from one suburb to another.

It should be noted that technological determinism is not being invoked here. The automobile did not create suburbanization and sprawl by itself; also of major importance were government programs that subsidized suburbanization through home mortgage tax deductions, VHA and FHA mortgages, and--sad to note--"white flight" from the central city. Suburban living also harmonized with some deeply held American beliefs about what constitutes the good life. Henry Ford had an obvious interest in promoting an automotive-based lifestyle, but he spoke for many when he claimed that "we will solve the problems of the city by leaving the city."48 In the years that followed the automobile allowed millions of commuters to pursue this vision, leaving large portions of American cities economically and demographically hollowed out.

The Internationalization of American Automobile Culture

The history of suburbanization shows that, as happens with all significant technologies, the automobile's contribution to social change has been inextricably intertwined with politics, culture, and economics. Over the last hundred years the automobile has resonated with established elements of American life, exaggerated others, and left still others altered beyond recognition. At present, the history of the automobile in America is being duplicated in other places, but there still remain aspects of the automobile-based culture that continue to find their most intense expression in the United States. We are still in the early stages of the automobilization of much of the world, and it is not yet evident that a car-based culture, American-style, will prevail.49 As it unfolds, the process will be the source of many fresh insights regarding the interaction of technology with established social, cultural, and political patterns. Historians and sociologists will not lack for important research topics during the next hundred years.

 

Notes

Dr. Volti is professor of sociology at Pitzer College. He thanks Harvey Botwin, Robert C. Post, Mark Rose, John Staudenmaier, and John D. Sullivan for the many helpful comments they made in response to an earlier draft of this article. (Return to top)

1. In a recent catalog of motoring publications, I counted thirty-seven in-print books covering various aspects of the Model A Ford. For conniosseurs of automotive mediocrity there is even a rather expensive book devoted to the Ford Falcon.

2.For a study of one type of motor racing that also addresses some fundamental issues regarding the nature of technology, see Robert C. Post, High Performance: The Culture and Technology of Drag Racing, 1950-1990 (Baltimore, 1994).

3. It is remarkable how often segments of Middletown by Helen and Robert Lynd reappear when the sociology of the automobile is addressed. See Helen Merrill Lynd and Robert S. Lynd, Middletown: A Study of American Culture (New York, 1929).

4. David L. Lewis, "Sex and the Automobile: From Rumble Seats to Rockin' Vans," in The Automobile and American Culture, ed. David L. Lewis and Lawrence Goldstein (Ann Arbor, Mich., 1983).

5.The role of bicycling in the development of better roads is discussed in Philip P. Mason, The League of American Wheelmen and the Good Roads Movement (Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, 1957).

6. For several discussions of technological enthusiasm, see John L. Wright, ed., Possible Dreams: Enthusiasm for Technology in America (Dearborn, Mich., 1992). For an analysis of auto manufacturer motivations in the early years, see Donald Finlay Davis, Conspicuous Production: Automobiles and Elites in Detroit, 1899-1933 (Philadelphia, 1988). On the tension between auto manufacturers' enthusiasm and the industry's remarkably slow adoption of flashy consumerist advertising, see Pamela Walker Laird's cover design, in this issue.

7. A still-useful early history of the automobile industry and its financial underpinnings is Lawrence Howard Selzer, A Financial History of the American Automobile Industry (Boston and New York, 1928). Also of value are James R. Doolittle et al., The Romance of the Automobile Industry (New York, 1916) and Ralph C. Epstein, The Automobile Industry (Chicago and New York, 1928).

8. John B. Rae, The American Automobile Industry (Boston, 1984) p. 18.

9. The origin of the gasoline-powered automobile remains a contentious issue. For a discussion of the origins of the automobile and much else, see James J. Flink, The Automobile Age (Cambridge, Mass., 1988).

10. See W. Brian Arthur, "Competing Technologies, Increasing Returns, and Lock-In by Historical Events," The

Economic Journal 9 (March 1989): 116-131. In regard to the American automobile and the industry that produced it, see William J. Abernathy, The Productivity Dilemma: Roadblock to Innovation in the Automobile Industry (Baltimore, 1978).

11. In 1913 the ratio of registered automobiles to the total population of the United States was 1: 77, while the ratio for Britain was 1:165. By 1927 the gap had widened substantially; in the United States the car-to-population ratio was 1:5.3, while in Britain it was 1:44. See Jean-Pierre Bardou et al., The Automobile Revolution: The Impact of an Industry (Chapel Hill, 1982) pp. 72, 112.

12. H. Massac Buist, "A Briton's American Notes" Society of Automotive Engineers Bulletin 6 (September 1913): 485-504.

13. The reasons for the failure of steam and electric cars are presented in David Kirsch, "Turning Points in Technology: Steam, Gasoline and Electric Powered Vehicles in America, 1890-1914" (paper presented at the annual meeting of the Society for the History of Technology, Charlottesville, Virginia, October 1995). See also Rudi Volti, "Why Internal Combustion," American Heritage of Invention and Technology 6 (Fall 1990): 42-47.

14. Lord Montegue of Beaulieu and Anthony Bird, Steam Cars, 1770-1970 (New York, 1971), p. 130. For a brief history of the steam automobile in America, and the reasons for its commercial failure, see Clay McShane, Down the Asphalt Path: The Automobile and the American City (New York, 1994), pp. 81-101.

15. For a recent study of the electric car, see Michael Brian Schiffer, Taking Charge: The Electric Car in America (Washington, 1994).

16. On the "gendering" of the automobile see Virginia Scarff, Taking the Wheel: Women and the Coming of the Motor Age (New York, 1991).

17. The production innovations introduced at Ford are extensively covered in David Hounshell, From the American System to Mass Production, 1800-1932: The Development of Manufacturing Technology in the United States (Baltimore, 1984).

18. Robert Blauner, Alienation and Freedom: The Factory Worker and His Industry (Chicago, 1964) p. 91.

19. Studies of automotive assembly line work include Eli Chinoy, Automobile Workers and the American Dream (New York, 1955); Charles R. Walker and Robert H. Guest, The Man on the Assembly Line (Cambridge, Mass., 1952; reprint, New York, 1979); and Nelson Lichtenstein and Stephen Meyer, eds., On the Line: Essays in the History of Auto Work (Urbana, Ill., 1991) A cross-national comparison is provided by Satoshi Kamata, Japan in the Passing Lane: An Insider's Account of Life in a Japanese Auto Factory (New York, 1983).

20. Both "Fordism" and "Sloanism" are critically appraised in Emma Rothschild, Paradise Lost: The Decline of the Auto-Industrial Age (New York, 1973).

21. Fortune (29 April 1996): F-1, F-9. For the same period Ford's revenues were $137.14 billion, Chrysler's, $53.19 billion.

22. On automotive styling, see Paul C. Wilson, Chrome Dreams: Automobile Styling Since 1893 (Radnor, Penns., 1976). For an attempt to put automotive styling in the context of political economy, see David Gartman, Auto Opium: A Social History of American Automobile Design (New York, 1994) .

23. Bardou et al. (n. 11 above), p. 66.

24. Claude S. Fisher, America Calling: A Social History of the Telephone to 1940 (Berkeley, 1992), p. 114.

25. Ibid., pp. 107-121.

26. Flink (n. 9 above), p. 44.

27. An early automotive transplant, the American Austin (later the Bantam), sold for $445-550 in 1930-31, a time when $480 bought a new Ford Model A Tudor. Not surprisingly, the Austin/Bantam sold in small numbers.

28. On the history of the automatic transmission, see Philip G. Gott, Changing Gears: The Development of the Automotive Transmission (Warrendale, Penns., 1991).

29. In 1953 President Eisenhower nominated Wilson for Secretary of Defense. When asked by a Senate committee if there might be any conflict between his government service and his past affiliation with GM, Wilson replied that "I have always believed that what's good for the country is good for General Motors, and vice versa."

30. John G. Burke, "Bursting Boilers and Federal Power" Technology and Culture 7 (1966): 1-23.

31. Emissions standards (in grams per mile) for 1994-2003 model automobiles are: hydrocarbons, 0.25; carbon monoxide, 3.4; nitrogen oxides, 0.4; particulate matter, 0.08. For a compilation of emissions standards from 1968 to those proposed for 2004, see Gary Bryner, Blue Skies, Green Politics: The Clean Air Act of 1990 (Washington, D. C., 1993), p. 161.

32. James M. Lents and William J. Kelly, "Clearing the Air in Los Angeles," Scientific American (October 1993), p. 36.

33. Henry Ford, My Life and Work (Garden City, N. Y., 1926); Alfred Pritchard Sloan, Adventures of a White-collar Man (New York, 1941); Walter P. Chrysler, Life of an American Workman (Philadelphia, 1938). The contemporary equivalent is, of course, Lee A. Iacocca, Iacocca: An Autobiography (New York, 1984).

34. Ralph Nader, Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile (New York, 1965). A revised edition appeared in 1972.

35. The growth of consumer interest in automotive safety is another topic that merits investigation. It is likely that a more sophisticated buying public, coupled with increased influence by women on buying decisions, made safety a more salient issue.

36. OPEC also put an embargo on oil supplies to the Netherlands.

37. Flink (n. 9 above), pp. 388-89.

38. "Current Comment," Motor Age 6 (June 1907).

39. See Stephen Meyer, The Five-Dollar Day: Labor Management and Social Change in the Ford Motor Company, 1908-1921 (Albany, NY, 1981).

40. Neal Templin, "A Decisive Response to Crisis Brought Ford Enhanced Productivity," The Wall Street Journal,15 December 1992, p. 1.

41. Automotive News, 1 April 1996, p. s20.

42. For a history of road building, see M. G. Lay, Ways of the World: A History of the World's Roads and the Vehicles That Used Them (New Brunswick, N.J., 1992). The coevolution of the American car and the American road is documented in John B. Rae, The Road and Car in American Life (Cambridge, Mass., 1971). California's contribution to mass automobility, the freeway, is the subject of David Brodsly's L.A. Freeway: An Appreciative Essay (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1981).

43. See Helen Leavitt, Superhighway-- Superhoax (Garden City, N. Y., 1970) and Mark H. Rose, Interstate: Express Highway Politics, 1941-1956 (Lawrence, Kansas, 1979).

44. Some of the effects of the Interstate Highway System are explored in Harold M. Hyman, ed., The Age of Asphalt: The Automobile, the Freeway, and the Condition of Urban America (Philadelphia, 1975). See also McShane (n. 14 above).

45. For a pictorial and verbal description of roadside architecture, see Chester H. Liebs, Main Street to Miracle Mile: American Roadside Architecture (Boston, 1985). On motels, see Warren James Belasco, Americans On the Road: From Autocamp to Motel, 1910-1945 (Cambridge, Mass., 1979). On fast food, see Stan Luxenberg, Roadside Empires: How Chains Franchised America (New York, 1985).

46. For a history of suburbanization that devotes considerable attention to the role of the automobile, see Kenneth T. Jackson, Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States (New York and Oxford, 1985).

47. Mark S. Foster, From Streetcar to Superhighway: American City Planners and Urban Transportation, 1900-1940 (Philadelphia, 1982).

48. James J. Flink, The Car Culture (Cambridge, Mass., 1975), p. 39.

49. To cite one example, in India the ratio of motor vehicles to people is 1:225, and about half of these are motor scooters. It also may be noted that whereas the United States has fewer than fifty cars per mile of road, Taiwan has 240.

(End of text)

Index of online articles § Technology and Culture

 

Technology and Culture Vol. 37, no. 4 (October 1996)
© 1996 by the Society for the History of Technology. All rights reserved.

Index of online articles § Technology and Culture

The Cover Design

"The Car Without a Single Weakness": Early Automobile Advertising

Pamela Walker Laird

And speaking about hills, I want to tell you that the best part of automobiling--that part that gets you harder than anything else--is the way an automobile sweeps uphill. It doesn't know a hill when it comes to it. A wheelbarrow can run down-hill... The automobile, however, going down-hill can make old gravitation dizzy, drunk, even with delight; and then with equal ease it will shoot up-hill in a way to make gravitation tear its hair with frenzy and slink away crestfallen, conquered. [Editorial, Judicious Advertising, 1903]

So exclaimed Frank Munsey, publisher extraordinaire, concluding with the assertion that automobiling "will renew the life and youth of the overworked man or woman.""This," the editors confirmed, "is good sound talk--truthful talk--and it offers a suggestion for strong convincing advertising argument for automobiling and for any automobile that goes." But in contrast to this "sound talk," most automobile advertisements had at the time "a certain sameness" that belied the promotional potential perceived by enthusiasts such as Munsey. Too many automobile manufacturers had failed to keep up with progress in advertising, and "still cling to the old-time idea that the proper sort of an ad shows a [wood]cut of the machine, with a few stock phrases," and a list of agents. "Let the makers catch up the spirit of enthusiasm--[and] stand out for work of the highest quality from those who prepare their announcements. The results will well repay the pains."[1]

For all the differences among early auto makers and their products, they entered this new industry because they shared Munsey¹s passion for the machines, and for the experiences of automobiling.[2] Why did their advertisements not reflect that enthusiasm? Why did the cars in them not move? Where was the verve that bicycle advertisements had shown since the 1880s, and the slogans--like "Columbia Riders Know Naught but Pleasure"?[3]

Early auto builders had something to prove through their public statements, very much like their 19th-century counterparts in other new manufacturing industries, who often used advertisements displaying factories, locomotives, and other symbols of industrial progress to make their case for inclusion in the pantheon of heroes of capitalism.[4] But apparently auto makers did not feel the need to prove that automobility was exciting. All auto ads before 1920, and most before 1930, featured technical discussions appropriate to a new and expensive, exciting but intimidating technology, akin to personal computer advertisements today. Lengthy copy gave potential owners information calculated to inspire confidence in the machines. It also taught a language for asking questions and exchanging observations that relieved people's uncertainties about the mysteries under the hood, as in the Dorris Motor Car Company's discussions of "power plant," "choker manipulation," and "vaporization of present day low grade gasoline" (fig. 1).

Many advertising messages therefore presented cars as machines with parts and prices to be proud of--like the Dorris pictured quietly above a diagram of a "distillator." This approach suited a complex machine that, for all its thrill, operated with noises, smells, and difficulties yet unmediated by further technological refinement or cultural familiarity. For all its swell language, the 1922 Dorris headline, "The Car Without A Single Weakness," expressed characteristic hesitations and concerns, as did the strange boast that the Dorris possessed "wholesome beauty without a trace of freakishness." Despite "sixteen years' experience in designing and building high-grade cars," this firm was still part of a young industry.

Beyond this near-universal mechanical theme, a second theme dominated many early automobile advertisements, namely the now time-honored practice of associating a make with prestige. This was particularly congenial to the ambitions of those manufacturers who sought both to legitimate their entrepreneurial activities with their own high status and to improve that status with financial success.[5] In 1912, Oldsmobile pictured "ŒAutocrats' of the Road" in an unusually lively advertisement, with copy reminding readers of the problems of roadsters and listing features of the new Oldsmobiles, including "the long stroke, smooth running engine," shock absorbers, and "protection from dust" (fig. 2).

The only makes that consistently avoided mechanical discourse were Packard and Pierce Arrow, at the top of the price range. They focussed instead on the elite character--or aspirations--of their market. By the 1910s, their advertisements featured elegant architectural borders with static drawings of their cars; Packard ads (fig. 3) never even pictured people during this period, whereas Pierce-Arrow often included richly dressed bystanders. As a leading copywriter, Earnest Elmo Calkins, observed, "mechanical excellence would be approached ultimately by all cars." Then "people would demand finish, beauty and luxury," and "the car which had a reputation for those things" would have a stronger place in the market. Both Packard and Pierce-Arrow employed artists early on to create "atmosphere" through advertisements that were "distinct in style."[6] This suited a "gentleman's car, built by gentlemen" more concerned with their reputations than their fortunes.[7] Such messages, with their elegant if static imagery, expressed the prestige attending ownership, but not the excitement.

Two decades after Munsey's exclamations, Sinclair Lewis depicted George F. Babbitt as feeling that his motor car was "poetry and tragedy, love and heroism."[8] Yet auto advertisements continued as before. Auto manufacturers still operated in exception to practices by then standard in advertising brand-name consumer goods in national media. They still told their audiences what they wanted known, instead of attempting either to discern or to shape what consumers wanted in a car and formulating their messages accordingly. In this they followed earlier patterns common to almost all businesses when advertisements resulted from direct contact between an advertiser--that is, the person paying for an advertisement--and a communications producer--for example, a printer, sign maker, or publisher. By 1910, however, advertising agents or specialist employees placed most newspaper and magazine advertisements for nationally marketed, brand-name consumer goods, and they exercised increasing inputs to the messages. But, like earlier advertisers, the owners and CEOs of early automotive firms still either wrote their own messages or closely supervised them, ignoring division of labor protocols, even when specialists assisted with and placed the ads.[9] So auto ads through the 1920s reflected owners' ambitions and concerns to a degree not true for other manufacturers then advertising directly to consumers.[10] And auto manufacturers as a group embraced advertising eagerly, spending lavish sums for it; they took out full-page ads in costly magazines in the early years of the century, when most advertisers still considered the practice an extravagance.[11]

Although their expenditures were innovative, auto manufacturers' advertising content lagged behind the advertising vanguard. Contemporary advertising trend setters were to be found in two quite different sectors: high-volume producers of relatively inexpensive, brand-name consumer goods made using continuous process systems, such as soap, processed foods and drinks, cigarettes, medicines, threads, and magazines; and firms operated by individuals who set the advertising pace with what P. T. Barnum called an "instinct" for showmanship.[12] By 1910 corporations dominated most industries in the former category, operating with high degrees of managerial specialization and struggling with marketing problems that rewarded intensely innovative and aggressive advertising. As to the latter, many 19th-century owner managers had exhibited such flair--including the automobile industry's precursors, bicycle manufacturers. Albert A. Pope, for instance, had advertised the Columbia Bicycle to world fame, commissioning dynamic images from leading commercial artists.

Despite the many links between bicycles and early automobiles, however, early automobile promoters did not look to their cycling forerunners for guidance when it came to advertising their products. Even their similar experiences with races as an important early promotional device did not translate into consumer advertising for autos. Instead, the aesthetic roots of auto advertising are to be found in the carriage industry, the automobile's other ancestor, and carriage advertising typically did not picture passengers, or try to invoke sensations of speed or motion to appeal to consumers. The "carriage trade" origins of so many auto makers explain the strength of this sedate legacy. In 1906, for instance, the George N. Pierce Company described its Pierce Great Arrow Suburban as a "dependable touring car and a luxurious city carriage."[13] Also, flamboyant advertising had generally negative connotations for Progressive Era elites because of its associations with patent medicine salesmen and the circus.[14] Certainly no early auto manufacturers permitted the enthusiasm they expressed about their cars elsewhere to creep into their promotions.

Even when copywriting specialists took on auto accounts, they clung to "reason why" strategies that closely followed either the elitist or the mechanical traditions, or continued pairing the two strategies. Still distancing their profession from its colorful roots, they emphasized copy over illustration. Seeking legitimacy for themselves, as well as for their clients, they understood targeting by class, as Calkins's strategies for the expensive models indicate. Claude Hopkins, another automobiling enthusiast who tempered enthusiasm with convention, advised strategies specifically calculated to reassure buyers and build confidence-- writing profiles about head engineers, for example, and glossing facts such as "actual figures how quantity production reduced costs," especially for middle-class cars like the Hudson and the Studebaker.[15] In this vein, the Lexington Motor Company described its 1922 Minute Man Six as "a pre-determined product, a logical fruition of a definite program . . . [which] reflects everything which Lexington and its allied group of factories have been trying to accomplish for years" (fig. 4). Even the ad's references to a car "built to stay young" do not bring the overall message up to the consumerist standards of the decade: the car sits still while young ladies admire it and its stiffly posed driver; the reference to "self-contained manufacturing units" evinces a pride in industrial progress that hearkens back to the previous century. Such copy violated the dictum that advertisers should not feature their factories because that was not what they were selling. As Nathaniel Fowler, Jr., had observed more than twenty years earlier, the "buyer of a thing is not the maker of it; he is interested in the result, not in the steps to the result. He does not care how a thing was made ..."[16] Like Dorris, Lexington's boast of finally achieving what it had been "trying to accomplish" expressed the producers' experiences, not what they offered the consumer.

But as the auto industry developed in the 1920s, so auto advertisements began to change, and change quickly. After the mid-1920s, Henry Ford was the last of the early enthusiasts still in control of a major automotive firm. His production-centered ethos unwavering, he almost drove his company to ruin by continuing to build economical machines and to advertise them as just that--and only that. Despite Ford's reticence before finally moving from the venerable Model T to the born-staid Model A, his enthusiast's joy at automobiling never faded, resurfacing with the 1932 V-8, the design of which he personally supervised. Nonetheless his advertising strategies remained the same through the early 1930s--all traces of the sheer enjoyment to be found in driving a car still missing from their focus on mechanics, operations, economy, and production. As founder of the firm and the world's most exalted industrialist, he insisted that his company's advertisements "not make the pleasure principle," no matter what else was going on in the consumer culture and no matter what son Edsel or others advised. Magazine advertisements in the 1920s showed instead the Highland Park and River Rouge plants that were Henry Ford's glory. "A Giant Who Works For You" and "Servant of the Millions" read the headlines of two advertisements that expressed the technological sublime in copy as well as image (fig. 5). With only occasional exceptions, Ford adamantly refused to allow his firm's public image to move away from his emphasis on large-scale production, standardization, and low prices until well after the company had irretrievably lost its lead to Alfred Sloan's innovative marketing and organization at General Motors.[17]

Ford's prolonged opposition to modern advertising strategies was rare on the national scene in the 1920s, in part because owner-managers of major production firms advertising directly to consumers were rare. His strategies were not inherently inappropriate in a young, precorporate industry, especially for products of complex technological innovation. But companies, and industries, frequently outgrow their founders' operational styles, including their marketing strategies. Examples abound, even in our newest industries, of founders creating market conditions in which they can no longer do well. Thirty and even forty years after Ferdinand Schumacher had introduced oat processing for human consumption in 1854, he fought bitterly the postincorporation strategy of selling his product with the charming Quaker Oats symbol. Ford's own hero, Thomas A. Edison, could not or would not see that movie stars and romantic stories marked the road to riches for film makers using his technologies; thirty years after his 1888 patent, he ended all attempts at competing in the field.[18] By the mid-1920s automobiling had just arrived at its thirty-year point, and only General Motors' divisions had already moved into corporate operations, and that only ten years earlier. Chrysler incorporated in 1925. Ford's adamant opposition to innovation in advertising, like that of production oriented owner-managers before him, is a measure of the importance such entrepreneurs attached to the public images of their products and their firms.

By the middle of the 1920s, automobile marketing was no longer just a matter of convincing people to buy a car, or to buy one car over another. It was increasingly a matter of convincing people to replace their original car, even if it still functioned adequately. At this point, automotive executives moved the industry toward more seasoned marketing, prompted either by their own flair for promotion or by corporate marketing practices. Edward S. Jordan, an owner-manager, possessed a flair or marketing intuition that relished imagery, verbal and visual. Legend credits his inspiration to a young woman's teasing request for a car for her devil-may-care cohort. In response, Jordan redesigned the promotions for a car already in production to recreate The Playboy (fig. 6). His ground-breaking 1923 advertisements in the Saturday Evening Post set a new pace for the field, with dynamic images and copy about power, speed, and fun for a car purportedly designed for lively, youthful adventurers, or those who perceived themselves as such. Jordan made no mention of the model's technological innovations that enabled women to start them easily. Jordan aimed this "brawny thing--yet a graceful thing for the sweep o' the Avenue" at those who love "the cross of the wild and the tame," and "revel and romp and race."[19]

About this same time, Sloan brought fashion into the market. Managing a large corporation with which owners and founders no longer strongly identified, Sloan deliberately explored design and advertising for profit, rather than for the purpose of enhancing anyone's personal identity--other than the consumer's. Sloan and his specialists put together programs that explored targeting ("A car for every purse and purpose"), a purposeful marketing mix (coordinated design, production, and cost aimed at specific markets), and annual model changeover for speedy obsolescence.[20] Combining corporate marketing conditions and operations with flair, now hired on, General Motors and then Chrysler changed the field. The Big Three's 1931 ads reflected what their managers had to say to their publics. For several years GM advertisements had already employed psychological appeals that ranged from offering women freedom through easy driving to telling fathers that "Some day your boy will own a Buick" (fig. 7). Evocative copy promised that Buick would "go forward with that boy, grow with him, seek to interpret his desires in transportation, as it interprets the desires of present day motorists." Plymouth offered speed, portraying a business man joyfully speeding down the road in "a great car" that combined "Dodge dependability, Chrysler performance, [and] DeSoto smartness" (fig. 8). Ford, still under its founder's firm control, replaced his factories with Greenfield Village, and put "The New Ford [which] is an economical car to own and drive" into a nostalgic setting that reflected the patriarch's new passion (fig. 9).

From our perspective at the other end of the century, it seems anomalous that the automobile industry should have dragged its heels so in promoting what we now buy--whether we care to admit it or not--as dream machines and components of our personalities. This anomaly seems especially salient because automobiles dominate both popular and scholarly memories of the 1920s, and the decade's marketing specialists left a forceful legacy in their tools of persuasion. Jordan's novel invitation to step "into the Playboy when the hour grows dull with things gone dead and stale" echoes the Roaring Twenties of legend, and automobile ads ever since.[21] Judicious Advertising's 1903 critique had been premature, holding the infant auto industry to a standard of advertising liveliness it could only meet after the field itself no longer resembled "a kaleidoscope," in Hopkins's phrase.[22] As American culture assimilated automobility, the 1920s became the transition decade for the automobile industry, during which corporate operations increasingly distanced themselves from owners and founders, and their advertising followed suit. Ford's exception to that trend only proved the rule.

 

Notes

Dr. Laird teaches at the University of Colorado at Denver and at the University of Denver. Her book, The Business of Progress (Johns Hopkins University Press, forthcoming), analyzes the transformation of American advertising. (Return to top)

[l.] "The Automobile Industry and Its Advertising Possibilities," Judicious Advertising 1, no. 7 (May 1903): 15-17.

[2.] Donald Finlay Davis, Conspicuous Production: Automobiles and Elites in Detroit, 1899-1933 (Philadelphia, 1988), esp. pp. 1-3, 20-25.

[3.] Pope Manufacturing Company Christmas poster, 1895; Bicycles, Box 2, Collection of Business Americana, Archive Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

[4.] Pamela Walker Lurito, "Advertising's Smoky Past: Themes of Progress in Nineteenth Century Advertisements," in The Popular Perception of Industrial History, ed. Robert Weible and Francis R. Walsh (Lanham, Md., 1989), pp. 175-212.

[5.] Davis, passim.

[6.] Earnest Elmo Calkins, The Business of Advertising (New York, 1915), pp. 205-7.

[7.] Davis, pp. 59-60.

[8.] Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt (1922; reprint, New York, 1991), p. 23.

[9.] Davis (n. 2 above), pp. 6-7.

[10.] This was unlike the practices of batch and custom producers who marketed through retailers without substantial consumer advertising. Philip Scranton, "Manufacturing Diversity: Production Systems, Markets, and an American Consumer Society, 1870-1930," Technology and Culture 35 (July 1994): 476-505.

[11.] James Flink, The Automobile Age (Cambridge, Mass., 1988), p. 191.

[12.] Neil Harris, Humbug: The Art of P. T. Barnum (Chicago, 1973), pp. 22, 53-54.

[13.] Advertisement in The World's Work 12, no. 6 (October 1906): cover 3.

[14.] This speculation fits with Davis's argument that the early automobile manufacturers sacrificed business success for social ambitions.

[15.] Claude C. Hopkins, My Life in Advertising, (New York, 1927), pp. 109-121; Davis (n. 2 above), p. 91.

[16.] Nathaniel C. Fowler, Jr., Fowler's Publicity: An Encyclopedia of Advertising and Printing (Boston, 1900) pp. 520-21, 654. "Good will" was the contemporary term for a positive public image and the title of one section from which these quotations came. In the 1970s and 1980s, CEO's and factories resurfaced in advertisements as American industrialists tried to reinstill consumers' confidence and pride in American-made goods. Lee Iacocca's advertisements for Chrysler and Ford's "Quality Is Job One" campaign offer interesting parallels to the 19th century industrialists' attempts to sell and communicate confidence in uncertain conditions.

[17.] Henry Ford, My Life and Work (Garden City, 1925) pp. 54-56; Allan Nevins, Ford: Expansion and Challenge: 1915-1933 (New York, 1957), p. 264; Richard Tedlow, New and Improved: The Story of Mass Marketing in America (New York, 1990), ch. 3. Advertisements from the Archives and Library, Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, Michigan, Acc. 19, Adv--Ford--1923--Institutional.

[18.] Harrison John Thornton, The History of the Quaker Oats Company (Chicago, 1933), pp. 25-32, 87-110; W. Bernard Carlson, "Artifacts and Frames of Meaning: Thomas A. Edison, His Managers, and the Cultural Construction of Motion Pictures," in Shaping Technology, Building Society: Studies in Sociotechnological Change, ed. Wiebe E. Bijker and John Law (Cambridge, Mass., 1992), pp. 175-98.

[19.] Julian L. Watkins, The 100 Greatest Advertisements: Who Wrote Them and What They Did (New York, 1959), pp. 51-52.

[20.] David Gartman, Auto Opium: A Social History of American Automobile Design (London and New York, 1994), ch. 4.

[2l.] Watkins (n. 15 above), p. 51.

[22.] Hopkins, p. 110.

(End of text)

Top § Index of online articles § Technology and Culture

 

 

Technology and Culture Vol. 37, no. 4 (October 1996)
© 1996 by the Society for the History of Technology. All rights reserved.

Index of online articles § Technology and Culture

The Cover Design

"The Car Without a Single Weakness": Early Automobile Advertising

Pamela Walker Laird

And speaking about hills, I want to tell you that the best part of automobiling--that part that gets you harder than anything else--is the way an automobile sweeps uphill. It doesn't know a hill when it comes to it. A wheelbarrow can run down-hill... The automobile, however, going down-hill can make old gravitation dizzy, drunk, even with delight; and then with equal ease it will shoot up-hill in a way to make gravitation tear its hair with frenzy and slink away crestfallen, conquered. [Editorial, Judicious Advertising, 1903]

So exclaimed Frank Munsey, publisher extraordinaire, concluding with the assertion that automobiling "will renew the life and youth of the overworked man or woman.""This," the editors confirmed, "is good sound talk--truthful talk--and it offers a suggestion for strong convincing advertising argument for automobiling and for any automobile that goes." But in contrast to this "sound talk," most automobile advertisements had at the time "a certain sameness" that belied the promotional potential perceived by enthusiasts such as Munsey. Too many automobile manufacturers had failed to keep up with progress in advertising, and "still cling to the old-time idea that the proper sort of an ad shows a [wood]cut of the machine, with a few stock phrases," and a list of agents. "Let the makers catch up the spirit of enthusiasm--[and] stand out for work of the highest quality from those who prepare their announcements. The results will well repay the pains."[1]

For all the differences among early auto makers and their products, they entered this new industry because they shared Munsey¹s passion for the machines, and for the experiences of automobiling.[2] Why did their advertisements not reflect that enthusiasm? Why did the cars in them not move? Where was the verve that bicycle advertisements had shown since the 1880s, and the slogans--like "Columbia Riders Know Naught but Pleasure"?[3]

Early auto builders had something to prove through their public statements, very much like their 19th-century counterparts in other new manufacturing industries, who often used advertisements displaying factories, locomotives, and other symbols of industrial progress to make their case for inclusion in the pantheon of heroes of capitalism.[4] But apparently auto makers did not feel the need to prove that automobility was exciting. All auto ads before 1920, and most before 1930, featured technical discussions appropriate to a new and expensive, exciting but intimidating technology, akin to personal computer advertisements today. Lengthy copy gave potential owners information calculated to inspire confidence in the machines. It also taught a language for asking questions and exchanging observations that relieved people's uncertainties about the mysteries under the hood, as in the Dorris Motor Car Company's discussions of "power plant," "choker manipulation," and "vaporization of present day low grade gasoline" (fig. 1).

Many advertising messages therefore presented cars as machines with parts and prices to be proud of--like the Dorris pictured quietly above a diagram of a "distillator." This approach suited a complex machine that, for all its thrill, operated with noises, smells, and difficulties yet unmediated by further technological refinement or cultural familiarity. For all its swell language, the 1922 Dorris headline, "The Car Without A Single Weakness," expressed characteristic hesitations and concerns, as did the strange boast that the Dorris possessed "wholesome beauty without a trace of freakishness." Despite "sixteen years' experience in designing and building high-grade cars," this firm was still part of a young industry.

Beyond this near-universal mechanical theme, a second theme dominated many early automobile advertisements, namely the now time-honored practice of associating a make with prestige. This was particularly congenial to the ambitions of those manufacturers who sought both to legitimate their entrepreneurial activities with their own high status and to improve that status with financial success.[5] In 1912, Oldsmobile pictured "ŒAutocrats' of the Road" in an unusually lively advertisement, with copy reminding readers of the problems of roadsters and listing features of the new Oldsmobiles, including "the long stroke, smooth running engine," shock absorbers, and "protection from dust" (fig. 2).

The only makes that consistently avoided mechanical discourse were Packard and Pierce Arrow, at the top of the price range. They focussed instead on the elite character--or aspirations--of their market. By the 1910s, their advertisements featured elegant architectural borders with static drawings of their cars; Packard ads (fig. 3) never even pictured people during this period, whereas Pierce-Arrow often included richly dressed bystanders. As a leading copywriter, Earnest Elmo Calkins, observed, "mechanical excellence would be approached ultimately by all cars." Then "people would demand finish, beauty and luxury," and "the car which had a reputation for those things" would have a stronger place in the market. Both Packard and Pierce-Arrow employed artists early on to create "atmosphere" through advertisements that were "distinct in style."[6] This suited a "gentleman's car, built by gentlemen" more concerned with their reputations than their fortunes.[7] Such messages, with their elegant if static imagery, expressed the prestige attending ownership, but not the excitement.

Two decades after Munsey's exclamations, Sinclair Lewis depicted George F. Babbitt as feeling that his motor car was "poetry and tragedy, love and heroism."[8] Yet auto advertisements continued as before. Auto manufacturers still operated in exception to practices by then standard in advertising brand-name consumer goods in national media. They still told their audiences what they wanted known, instead of attempting either to discern or to shape what consumers wanted in a car and formulating their messages accordingly. In this they followed earlier patterns common to almost all businesses when advertisements resulted from direct contact between an advertiser--that is, the person paying for an advertisement--and a communications producer--for example, a printer, sign maker, or publisher. By 1910, however, advertising agents or specialist employees placed most newspaper and magazine advertisements for nationally marketed, brand-name consumer goods, and they exercised increasing inputs to the messages. But, like earlier advertisers, the owners and CEOs of early automotive firms still either wrote their own messages or closely supervised them, ignoring division of labor protocols, even when specialists assisted with and placed the ads.[9] So auto ads through the 1920s reflected owners' ambitions and concerns to a degree not true for other manufacturers then advertising directly to consumers.[10] And auto manufacturers as a group embraced advertising eagerly, spending lavish sums for it; they took out full-page ads in costly magazines in the early years of the century, when most advertisers still considered the practice an extravagance.[11]

Although their expenditures were innovative, auto manufacturers' advertising content lagged behind the advertising vanguard. Contemporary advertising trend setters were to be found in two quite different sectors: high-volume producers of relatively inexpensive, brand-name consumer goods made using continuous process systems, such as soap, processed foods and drinks, cigarettes, medicines, threads, and magazines; and firms operated by individuals who set the advertising pace with what P. T. Barnum called an "instinct" for showmanship.[12] By 1910 corporations dominated most industries in the former category, operating with high degrees of managerial specialization and struggling with marketing problems that rewarded intensely innovative and aggressive advertising. As to the latter, many 19th-century owner managers had exhibited such flair--including the automobile industry's precursors, bicycle manufacturers. Albert A. Pope, for instance, had advertised the Columbia Bicycle to world fame, commissioning dynamic images from leading commercial artists.

Despite the many links between bicycles and early automobiles, however, early automobile promoters did not look to their cycling forerunners for guidance when it came to advertising their products. Even their similar experiences with races as an important early promotional device did not translate into consumer advertising for autos. Instead, the aesthetic roots of auto advertising are to be found in the carriage industry, the automobile's other ancestor, and carriage advertising typically did not picture passengers, or try to invoke sensations of speed or motion to appeal to consumers. The "carriage trade" origins of so many auto makers explain the strength of this sedate legacy. In 1906, for instance, the George N. Pierce Company described its Pierce Great Arrow Suburban as a "dependable touring car and a luxurious city carriage."[13] Also, flamboyant advertising had generally negative connotations for Progressive Era elites because of its associations with patent medicine salesmen and the circus.[14] Certainly no early auto manufacturers permitted the enthusiasm they expressed about their cars elsewhere to creep into their promotions.

Even when copywriting specialists took on auto accounts, they clung to "reason why" strategies that closely followed either the elitist or the mechanical traditions, or continued pairing the two strategies. Still distancing their profession from its colorful roots, they emphasized copy over illustration. Seeking legitimacy for themselves, as well as for their clients, they understood targeting by class, as Calkins's strategies for the expensive models indicate. Claude Hopkins, another automobiling enthusiast who tempered enthusiasm with convention, advised strategies specifically calculated to reassure buyers and build confidence-- writing profiles about head engineers, for example, and glossing facts such as "actual figures how quantity production reduced costs," especially for middle-class cars like the Hudson and the Studebaker.[15] In this vein, the Lexington Motor Company described its 1922 Minute Man Six as "a pre-determined product, a logical fruition of a definite program . . . [which] reflects everything which Lexington and its allied group of factories have been trying to accomplish for years" (fig. 4). Even the ad's references to a car "built to stay young" do not bring the overall message up to the consumerist standards of the decade: the car sits still while young ladies admire it and its stiffly posed driver; the reference to "self-contained manufacturing units" evinces a pride in industrial progress that hearkens back to the previous century. Such copy violated the dictum that advertisers should not feature their factories because that was not what they were selling. As Nathaniel Fowler, Jr., had observed more than twenty years earlier, the "buyer of a thing is not the maker of it; he is interested in the result, not in the steps to the result. He does not care how a thing was made ..."[16] Like Dorris, Lexington's boast of finally achieving what it had been "trying to accomplish" expressed the producers' experiences, not what they offered the consumer.

But as the auto industry developed in the 1920s, so auto advertisements began to change, and change quickly. After the mid-1920s, Henry Ford was the last of the early enthusiasts still in control of a major automotive firm. His production-centered ethos unwavering, he almost drove his company to ruin by continuing to build economical machines and to advertise them as just that--and only that. Despite Ford's reticence before finally moving from the venerable Model T to the born-staid Model A, his enthusiast's joy at automobiling never faded, resurfacing with the 1932 V-8, the design of which he personally supervised. Nonetheless his advertising strategies remained the same through the early 1930s--all traces of the sheer enjoyment to be found in driving a car still missing from their focus on mechanics, operations, economy, and production. As founder of the firm and the world's most exalted industrialist, he insisted that his company's advertisements "not make the pleasure principle," no matter what else was going on in the consumer culture and no matter what son Edsel or others advised. Magazine advertisements in the 1920s showed instead the Highland Park and River Rouge plants that were Henry Ford's glory. "A Giant Who Works For You" and "Servant of the Millions" read the headlines of two advertisements that expressed the technological sublime in copy as well as image (fig. 5). With only occasional exceptions, Ford adamantly refused to allow his firm's public image to move away from his emphasis on large-scale production, standardization, and low prices until well after the company had irretrievably lost its lead to Alfred Sloan's innovative marketing and organization at General Motors.[17]

Ford's prolonged opposition to modern advertising strategies was rare on the national scene in the 1920s, in part because owner-managers of major production firms advertising directly to consumers were rare. His strategies were not inherently inappropriate in a young, precorporate industry, especially for products of complex technological innovation. But companies, and industries, frequently outgrow their founders' operational styles, including their marketing strategies. Examples abound, even in our newest industries, of founders creating market conditions in which they can no longer do well. Thirty and even forty years after Ferdinand Schumacher had introduced oat processing for human consumption in 1854, he fought bitterly the postincorporation strategy of selling his product with the charming Quaker Oats symbol. Ford's own hero, Thomas A. Edison, could not or would not see that movie stars and romantic stories marked the road to riches for film makers using his technologies; thirty years after his 1888 patent, he ended all attempts at competing in the field.[18] By the mid-1920s automobiling had just arrived at its thirty-year point, and only General Motors' divisions had already moved into corporate operations, and that only ten years earlier. Chrysler incorporated in 1925. Ford's adamant opposition to innovation in advertising, like that of production oriented owner-managers before him, is a measure of the importance such entrepreneurs attached to the public images of their products and their firms.

By the middle of the 1920s, automobile marketing was no longer just a matter of convincing people to buy a car, or to buy one car over another. It was increasingly a matter of convincing people to replace their original car, even if it still functioned adequately. At this point, automotive executives moved the industry toward more seasoned marketing, prompted either by their own flair for promotion or by corporate marketing practices. Edward S. Jordan, an owner-manager, possessed a flair or marketing intuition that relished imagery, verbal and visual. Legend credits his inspiration to a young woman's teasing request for a car for her devil-may-care cohort. In response, Jordan redesigned the promotions for a car already in production to recreate The Playboy (fig. 6). His ground-breaking 1923 advertisements in the Saturday Evening Post set a new pace for the field, with dynamic images and copy about power, speed, and fun for a car purportedly designed for lively, youthful adventurers, or those who perceived themselves as such. Jordan made no mention of the model's technological innovations that enabled women to start them easily. Jordan aimed this "brawny thing--yet a graceful thing for the sweep o' the Avenue" at those who love "the cross of the wild and the tame," and "revel and romp and race."[19]

About this same time, Sloan brought fashion into the market. Managing a large corporation with which owners and founders no longer strongly identified, Sloan deliberately explored design and advertising for profit, rather than for the purpose of enhancing anyone's personal identity--other than the consumer's. Sloan and his specialists put together programs that explored targeting ("A car for every purse and purpose"), a purposeful marketing mix (coordinated design, production, and cost aimed at specific markets), and annual model changeover for speedy obsolescence.[20] Combining corporate marketing conditions and operations with flair, now hired on, General Motors and then Chrysler changed the field. The Big Three's 1931 ads reflected what their managers had to say to their publics. For several years GM advertisements had already employed psychological appeals that ranged from offering women freedom through easy driving to telling fathers that "Some day your boy will own a Buick" (fig. 7). Evocative copy promised that Buick would "go forward with that boy, grow with him, seek to interpret his desires in transportation, as it interprets the desires of present day motorists." Plymouth offered speed, portraying a business man joyfully speeding down the road in "a great car" that combined "Dodge dependability, Chrysler performance, [and] DeSoto smartness" (fig. 8). Ford, still under its founder's firm control, replaced his factories with Greenfield Village, and put "The New Ford [which] is an economical car to own and drive" into a nostalgic setting that reflected the patriarch's new passion (fig. 9).

From our perspective at the other end of the century, it seems anomalous that the automobile industry should have dragged its heels so in promoting what we now buy--whether we care to admit it or not--as dream machines and components of our personalities. This anomaly seems especially salient because automobiles dominate both popular and scholarly memories of the 1920s, and the decade's marketing specialists left a forceful legacy in their tools of persuasion. Jordan's novel invitation to step "into the Playboy when the hour grows dull with things gone dead and stale" echoes the Roaring Twenties of legend, and automobile ads ever since.[21] Judicious Advertising's 1903 critique had been premature, holding the infant auto industry to a standard of advertising liveliness it could only meet after the field itself no longer resembled "a kaleidoscope," in Hopkins's phrase.[22] As American culture assimilated automobility, the 1920s became the transition decade for the automobile industry, during which corporate operations increasingly distanced themselves from owners and founders, and their advertising followed suit. Ford's exception to that trend only proved the rule.

 

Notes

Dr. Laird teaches at the University of Colorado at Denver and at the University of Denver. Her book, The Business of Progress (Johns Hopkins University Press, forthcoming), analyzes the transformation of American advertising. (Return to top)

[l.] "The Automobile Industry and Its Advertising Possibilities," Judicious Advertising 1, no. 7 (May 1903): 15-17.

[2.] Donald Finlay Davis, Conspicuous Production: Automobiles and Elites in Detroit, 1899-1933 (Philadelphia, 1988), esp. pp. 1-3, 20-25.

[3.] Pope Manufacturing Company Christmas poster, 1895; Bicycles, Box 2, Collection of Business Americana, Archive Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

[4.] Pamela Walker Lurito, "Advertising's Smoky Past: Themes of Progress in Nineteenth Century Advertisements," in The Popular Perception of Industrial History, ed. Robert Weible and Francis R. Walsh (Lanham, Md., 1989), pp. 175-212.

[5.] Davis, passim.

[6.] Earnest Elmo Calkins, The Business of Advertising (New York, 1915), pp. 205-7.

[7.] Davis, pp. 59-60.

[8.] Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt (1922; reprint, New York, 1991), p. 23.

[9.] Davis (n. 2 above), pp. 6-7.

[10.] This was unlike the practices of batch and custom producers who marketed through retailers without substantial consumer advertising. Philip Scranton, "Manufacturing Diversity: Production Systems, Markets, and an American Consumer Society, 1870-1930," Technology and Culture 35 (July 1994): 476-505.

[11.] James Flink, The Automobile Age (Cambridge, Mass., 1988), p. 191.

[12.] Neil Harris, Humbug: The Art of P. T. Barnum (Chicago, 1973), pp. 22, 53-54.

[13.] Advertisement in The World's Work 12, no. 6 (October 1906): cover 3.

[14.] This speculation fits with Davis's argument that the early automobile manufacturers sacrificed business success for social ambitions.

[15.] Claude C. Hopkins, My Life in Advertising, (New York, 1927), pp. 109-121; Davis (n. 2 above), p. 91.

[16.] Nathaniel C. Fowler, Jr., Fowler's Publicity: An Encyclopedia of Advertising and Printing (Boston, 1900) pp. 520-21, 654. "Good will" was the contemporary term for a positive public image and the title of one section from which these quotations came. In the 1970s and 1980s, CEO's and factories resurfaced in advertisements as American industrialists tried to reinstill consumers' confidence and pride in American-made goods. Lee Iacocca's advertisements for Chrysler and Ford's "Quality Is Job One" campaign offer interesting parallels to the 19th century industrialists' attempts to sell and communicate confidence in uncertain conditions.

[17.] Henry Ford, My Life and Work (Garden City, 1925) pp. 54-56; Allan Nevins, Ford: Expansion and Challenge: 1915-1933 (New York, 1957), p. 264; Richard Tedlow, New and Improved: The Story of Mass Marketing in America (New York, 1990), ch. 3. Advertisements from the Archives and Library, Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, Michigan, Acc. 19, Adv--Ford--1923--Institutional.

[18.] Harrison John Thornton, The History of the Quaker Oats Company (Chicago, 1933), pp. 25-32, 87-110; W. Bernard Carlson, "Artifacts and Frames of Meaning: Thomas A. Edison, His Managers, and the Cultural Construction of Motion Pictures," in Shaping Technology, Building Society: Studies in Sociotechnological Change, ed. Wiebe E. Bijker and John Law (Cambridge, Mass., 1992), pp. 175-98.

[19.] Julian L. Watkins, The 100 Greatest Advertisements: Who Wrote Them and What They Did (New York, 1959), pp. 51-52.

[20.] David Gartman, Auto Opium: A Social History of American Automobile Design (London and New York, 1994), ch. 4.

[2l.] Watkins (n. 15 above), p. 51.

[22.] Hopkins, p. 110.

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