Skip to Content

Cars Everywhere

America is a large country spanning a full continent. Transportation has always been an issue in America’s economic growth. The automobile is the quintessentially American form of transportation. No invention, no industry, affected the United States on both an economic and a cultural level as much as the automobile industry.

Henry Ford developed his first “contraption” in 1893, and started the Ford Motor Company in Detroit in 1903. The first automobiles provided luxury transportation and status for the rich, but Ford soon changed that with his concept of mass production. In 1909, Ford began production of the “Model T,” a car so basic and inexpensive that average American families could afford one. Following Ford’s lead, General Motors and other companies built America’s most important industry around “the family car.”

As the automobile proliferated, so too did the road system, leading in the second half of the 20th century to the creation of the Interstate Highway System. The automobile manufacturing industry brought with it a ripple effect, spawning automobile dealers, car rental businesses, repair shops, gasoline stations, car washes, and roadside services like drive-in restaurants and motels.

The automobile gave Americans a freedom of movement that fit in well with the national character. Without the automobile, large spread-out cities like Los Angeles could never have grown to their present size. Around the older cities like New York and Philadelphia, the automobile was essential to the development of suburban America. The industry itself proved to be a powerhouse as it converted to war production during World War II. It remained a major force for several decades following the war, before going into a decline with which it is still struggling. Industry decline or no, America still runs on the automobile, even if it now imports many of its cars from other countries.

Next Section:Waves of Immigrants

Land, History and Language: Chapter Home

Life in the USA Home Page.