The mission of the Northeast Classic Car Museum consists of educating the public on different aspects of the automobile and its history throughout the years. This is the 3rd in a series of 5, originally published in the Norwich Evening Sun in 2006.
Automobiles have ended the isolation of rural communities and set an example of industrial efficiency for the world to copy. They have also spoiled the cities and small towns as neighborhoods are obliterated by highways smashing through; They have polluted the environment, and have caused shortages in natural resources. Yet the car itself is still the object of endless fascination. Some economists state that one worker in every five (others say six or seven) workers in the U.S. labor force is employed by some activity related to automobiles.
One of the first social changes brought about was in mating habits. Motorized courtship had been established even before the Model T offered a love nest within everyone’s price range. And it wasn’t just in America. The automobile manufacturers had no qualms about using sex appeal to sell their product and some car companies turned out models with seats that folded down to become a double bed.
Automobiles opened up the possibility of farm children going to town schools, where they were provided with better facilities and greater educational choices. They also gave farm communities the ability to shop at will, rather than once or twice a year. Town was the shopping range and there were also clubs, theaters, and numerous other activities that the average farm family had previously been denied access to.
The feminist movement, which had been dragging its feet ever since the 1820’s, had a rapid growth from the automobile. In 1898, Genevra Delphine Mudge drove a Waverley Electric in New York to become the nation’s first known female motorist. It was also in 1898 that Chicago began requiring licenses in order to drive, and one of the first licensed was a woman. Women were not a real part of the automotive scene, however, until Henry Leland produced a self-starter in a 1912 Cadillac.
The automobile gave America a new look and something new to look at as well. Escaping railroad schedules and the fixed routes of public transportation, Americans could go wherever and whenever they wanted. Overcrowded hotels and stage stops developed into road-side cabins and then courts and finally, into motels for the convenience of the motorist. Historically, most people never traveled more than a few dozen kilometers from their birthplace in their entire lives; the advent of the automobile began the transformation of society in such a way that those who had never traveled that distance were only a tiny minority.
Business looked around and saw the multitude of cars on the road and followed after them. Every junction of the road had a gas station. The speed of the vehicles picked up sharply and station owners were soon watching them fly to the next stop, so they started building eye-catching structures, and then came diners, cabins and other assorted roadside businesses, which now provide everything from swimming pools and paper, to disposable swim suits and breath sprays!
The car did alter the pattern of movement. People began to leave the beaten path, which had previously been unknown. The car introduced a country to its people, enabling travelers to discover and to understand regional differences and common values. The creation of good roads and dependable cars changed recreation and vacations. Resorts appeared in scenic places, far away from the hectic life of the cities. In the United States, national parks became popular tourist attractions and developed designs with auto travelers in mind.
Huge industries devoted only to the automobile were created. Others were expanded from once trivial insignificance to eminent importance. Before the internal-combustion engine was developed, gasoline was a waste product, often discarded. Once the automobile became commonplace, the production of gasoline blossomed into a matter of such importance that the governments took action to secure a steady flow of oil. The steel industry was already established, but the auto created huge amounts of business for it. The chemical, rubber, and petroleum industries were remade to suit the needs of the automobile and industries sprang up that were completely reliant upon the auto for their livelihood.
Article written by Audrey Robinson and Richard Ellinwood of the NECCM Education Committee. Reprinted courtesy of The Evening Sun, Norwich, NY.