The Automobile and American Life, 2d ed.


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About the Book

Now revised and updated, this book tells the story of how the automobile transformed American life and how automotive design and technology have changed over time. It details cars’ inception as a mechanical curiosity and later a plaything for the wealthy; racing and the promotion of the industry; Henry Ford and the advent of mass production; market competition during the 1920s; the development of roads and accompanying highway culture; the effects of the Great Depression and World War II; the automotive Golden Age of the 1950s; oil crises and the turbulent 1970s; the decline and then resurgence of the Big Three; and how American car culture has been represented in film, music and literature. Updated notes and a select bibliography serve as valuable resources to those interested in automotive history.

About the Author(s)

John Heitmann is a professor at the University of Dayton, where he teaches courses in the history of science and technology.

Bibliographic Details

John Heitmann

Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 291
Bibliographic Info: 47 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2018
pISBN: 978-1-4766-6935-9
eISBN: 978-1-4766-3002-1
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vi
Preface to the Second Edition 1
Introduction: The Automobile, Its History and Influence, and Some Contradictions 3

1—Beginnings: From a Mechanical Curiosity to a Plaything for the ­Well-to-Do 11
European by Birth, American by Adoption 11
Technological Antecedents—The Bicycle 13
Compact Power: The Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) 16
Choices Made: Competition from Steam Engines and Electric Motors 18
American Pioneers 21
Organization as Power 23
The Automobile for Better or Worse? 25
Music Galore 29
The Mechanical Arts and the Coming of the Machine Age 30
The Quest for Speed 32

2—The Inscrutable Henry Ford and the Rise of the Machine Age 35
From a Dearborn Farm to the World Stage 36
Frederick Winslow Taylor and “One Best Way” 39
The Genesis of Mass Production at Highland Park 40
The Flivver King 46
The Model T: What a Car! 48
World War I: War Without End 50
Later Years: Hero or ­Anti-Hero? 51
Early Economy Runs and the Gilmore Years, 1906–1941 52
Industrial America: The “Carnival of Speed” and the Indianapolis 500 53

3—The Rise of the Competition and the Consumer During the 1920s 55
“Billy” Durant and “Silent” Sloan 55
Kettering, Earl and “Keeping the Customer Dissatisfied” 58
The City of the Future and Dynamic Dayton of the 1930s 65
The Last of the Big Three: The Chrysler Corporation 66
The Independents 70
Innovation at the Periphery: The Cracker Jacker, Rickenbacker 71
The Jordan and Advertising the Dream 72

4—From Mud to the Open Road 75
Which Came First: Good Roads or the Automobile? 75
The Good Roads Movement 76
A Transcontinental Link: The Lincoln Highway 78
Federal Legislation and the Gas Tax 79
Two Lane Black Top, or Concrete If There Is Money 79
Auto Camping and “Gypsying” Across America 82
Fill’er Up 83
Road Food 86
Divided Highways, Parkways, and Expressways 87

5—Religion, Courtship, Sex, and Women Drivers 91
An Answer to Prayer or Something to Pray About? 91
Sex in the Back Seat 95
Those Women Drivers! 98
Cars as Homes 100

6—The Interwar Years: The Great Depression, Aerodynamics, and Cars of the Olympian Age 105
Olympian Automobiles of the 1930s 106
Streamlining and the Chrysler “Airflop” 111
Sitdown, the Coming of the United Auto Workers, and the Battle of the Overpass 114
The Poetic Response to the Automobile 117
Singing the Blues About Automobiles and Life 118
Filming on the Race Track and Soundstage 121

7—World War II and the Reconversion Economy: No Time for Sergeants or Aspiring Automobile Manufacturers 122
“Little Bo Peep Has Lost Her Jeep…” 124
Wartime Labor: Sacrifices and Selfishness 127
The Black Market: “Chiseled Gas” 131
The Reconversion Economy and a Man’s Dream 133

8—The Golden Age of the Automobile: The 1950s in America 137
The Automobile and Civil Rights 140
Hot Rod 142
Sports Cars on American Tracks, and The Red Car 146
Some Critics Surface: Safety and the Environment 149
Dealers, Good and Bad 151
The UAW, the Big Three, and Pattern Bargaining 154
The Cars of the Golden Era 156
The 1958 Recession and European Competition 158
The Volkswagen Bug 159
Cars and Rock and Roll 160
Film: The Rebels 163
A Night at the ­Drive-In 165
On the Road 165
The Coming of the Interstates 166
Summing Up the Glorious 1950s 167

9—The ­Go-Go Years, 1959–1970 169
The Microbus, Cars, and the Hippies 169
The Cadillac and the Establishment 172
An Age of Ambivalence 174
Ralph Nader and Unsafe at Any Speed 175
Government Regulation: Safety and the Environment 178
From a Brief Affair with Economy Vehicles to the Emergence of the Muscle Car 179
California Dreaming 184
James Bond, Steve McQueen, and the Action Thriller 184
Summing Up the Sixties 187

10—America and the Automobile During the 1970s 188
Introduction: A Decade Often Forgotten, Rarely Celebrated, Yet Certainly Pivotal 188
“We Can’t Fail”: The Gremlin, Vega, and Pinto 189
A Fresh Wind from Foreign Shores 191
The Early 1970s: Structural Shortcomings 192
Harry Crews and the “White Trash” in His Novel Car 193
On the Eve of Oil Shock: Auto Culture During the Summer and Fall of 1973 194
Oil Shock I 196
Japanese Cars Come in a Big Way to America 197
The New Automotive Technologies of the 1970s 199
Fasten Your Seat Belt; Watch Your Speed! 201
Mobile Lovemaking 202
Wither the Automobile? 203

11—The Automobile World Upside Down, 1980–2015 204
Oil Shock II, the Big Three, and Japan 205
Oil Shock Shockwaves: Chrysler and American Motors Corporation 205
The Automobile and Contemporary Art 208
The UAW in Retreat 209
Rivethead and the Quality Cat 209
Trucks, Sport Utility Vehicles, and Crossovers 212
The Car Hobby: Car Crazy 214
The Fast and Furious: Thank God for Fast Cars 216
Cars and Crime: The ­Drive-By 217
NASCAR Nation 218
Saturn, NUMMI, Chrysler, and Germans in the New South 220
New Technologies 224
Automobiles, Women, Eros, and Film 226
Poetry, Women, and Passion 228
The Great Recession, the GM and Chrysler Bankruptcies of 2007–2009, and Recovery 232
A New Global Order: China, the Largest Market for Automobiles in the World 233
Where Does the Automobile in American Life Go from Here? 234

Epilogue: The Automobile and One American Life 236
Chapter Notes 239
Select Bibliography 263
Index 273

Book Reviews & Awards

  • Reviews of the first edition: “The prose is almost flawless, and the writing never feels beleaguered…it is almost like the author enjoyed every topic and every page. Highly recommended. All collections”—Choice
  • “A great starting point for any student of American automotive history and a worthwhile addition to a collector’s bookshelf”—Autoweek
  • “Fun, informative, and close to a prewar bull’s eye!”—Prewar Auto Notes
  • “Very worthwhile reading”—Hemmings Classic Car
  • “This is an immensely useful work, especially for those of us who want an entertaining and provocative text for our courses…provide teachers with a great opportunity to expand on the text in class…a valuable asset to any teacher who hopes to bring the automobile and automobility into the classroom”—Technology and Culture
  • “Highly recommended”—Enterprise & Society
  • “A deeply thought provoking study”—