Consequences of the Automobile
What are the consequences of the automobile?
- things to along the road
- the sexual revolution
- maps and road names
- pollution and regulation
- urban sprawl
- growth of the gasoline industry--leads eventually to
dependence on foreign oil
- auto mechanics, used car sales, junkyards
- licensing--who can drive
- law enforcement, speed limits, traffic laws
How can we divide those up?
Technology and values:
- what problems arose, what
systems were needed to solve them
- social and economic/technological consequences
- first and second order consequences
- necessary parts of the system vs. unintended
- near-inevitable unintended consquences:
if you have enough automobiles pollution will become a
- the choices we make about how to use a
lead to consequences
- how a technology fits with our values affects
fast it is adopted, how it is used, how it develops further
- automobile fits with values of freedom,
1958 Thunderbird (PEM photo: Dacusville Farm Days)
road conditions in 1920s
- roads had begun to be improved for bicycles,
the automobile represented the need for a fundamental shift.
between the needs of horses and automobiles--a sudden spurt in
patents to provide horseshoes that would help horses manage paved roads.
- road maps
(and street names) were a consequence of the automobile--the first
national road atlas was published in 1927
- Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles opened
(but it was not limited access)
- the automobile trip culture had developed by
- the first gas station was opened by
in 1912 ( gas station
- Visits to national parks increased 4-fold
- The first
drive-in movie opened in 1933 in New Jersey--by the early 1950s
there were 4,000 of them.
- A&W root beer
- The first drive-in restaurant was either
Boy in 1936 or Royce Hailey's
Pig Stand in Dallas Texas in the early 1940s (by the 1960s these
were haunts for rowdy
teenagers and families were looking for another alternative--the chain
- roadside architecture
, and of course our very own
- Disneyland opened in 1955--the model for a
generation of amusement parks linked to highways rather than streetcars
- Between 1870 and 1920 New York City expanded
less than a million to 5 1/2 million population and from 22 to almost
square miles. Density also increased in the center city with the
invention of the elevator and steel frame construction.
- Urban services--particularly handling
sewage and providing water--had a hard time keeping up. The first
suburban explosion resulted from streetcars.
- This let to a major reform movement around
of the century--the Progressives, inventors of urban planning. By
about 1910 they had the ideas of a central business district, zoning, a
parks and parkways, and planning roads to allow circulation--including
first limited access highways. These plans were very
successful--the value of central property went up and therefore the tax
- What did middle class people want?--safety,
uniformity, yards, etc.
- The automobile corresponded with American
on independence and privacy.
- To get this people were willing to move
and further out. In the 1920s Los Angeles opened 3200
- Planned towns--
Levittowns (first in 1949). Only in 1960s were proposals for
cluster zoning to
leave open space successful.
- The attached garage replaced the front
large lots allowed space-wasting one story ranch houses.
were very segregated, not just by race but by income level and often
ethnicity (red-lining), also further separated the world of men and
Traffic in Los Angeles, 1949
For the role of the automobile as a cause of the
sexual revolution see: Sex and
For the history of licensing
drivers see: Licensing
Cars and Drivers
The interstate highway system
- California opened its first freeway in
In 1947 the state passed a law that expanded the 19 miles of freeway to
300 miles ten years later--by 1980 there were 12,500 miles. 54%
of the funding
came from the state gasoline tax.
- Began as a cold war idea, with the idea that
funding was needed to have a system that would allow easy movement of
troops. Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 committed the country to
spending $50 billion to construct 41,000 miles of interstate
highways. Good deal for the states--the federal gov't paid 90% of
the costs. By 1973 82% had been
marvels of the interstate highway system
- Chain motels displaced the old local motor
courts--the first Holiday
Inn was opened in 1952.
this page written and copyright ©
Pamela E. Mack
last updated 11/11/2005