Some consequences of a new technology are predictable.
The impact of technology on society is often
unexpected--technologies have unintended
consequences (and sometimes we just don't stop to
consider the whole system)
different ways automobile affected society, both intended and
* you need the infrastructure to support it eg.
gas stations, roads, service stations
* people can live further away from their work
or their families
* new area of entertainment--racing, etc.
* new kinds of restaurants, lodging, ...
* new kind of architecture
* road trips, family vacations, national parks
* did the automobile cause the sexual
* how did the automobile change the way we see
* how did the automobile change or reinforce
One technology leads to another, but also those technologies
change what is possible and the ways we experience the world
Technologies change what is possible but society makes choices
among the new possibilities, based on our values (both what we
value in a practical way and by our moral standards)
Does technology have some inevitable effect on our values?
Or is it that we choose whatever technology suits our values?
Or use technologies in ways that affect our values?
Or do we make choices that are influenced by the technologies
two kinds of impacts of technology:
roads and the road network
- the other things that are needed to make this
technological system work--necessary consequences
- unintended consequences
road conditions in 1920s
- roads had begun to be improved for bicycles,
but the automobile represented the need for a fundamental
In 1907 only 7
percent of the roads in the U.S. had any surfacing at all,
and that was usually just gravel. In 1916 Congress
approved some federal funding for improving post roads, then
in 1921 matching grants for interstate roads (like Route
1). (credit Robert C. Post)
- automobiles couldn't become popular without somewhat
- in 1919 the average car traveled 4,500 miles a year, 10
years later that had almost doubled (source)
- Conflict between the needs of horses and
automobiles--there was a sudden spurt in horseshoe
patents to provide horseshoes that would help horses manage
- road maps
(and street names) were a consequence of the automobile--the
first national road atlas was published in 1927
- property maps were most common before the
- city maps for railroad travelers?
- the automobile led to the development of
- streets were given names (difference
between a street, a road and an avenue)
- more modern example--911 systems that told
the dispatcher your address
- a lot of streets had to be given names
- this makes people more visible to the
- For the history of licensing drivers see: Licensing
Cars and Drivers
- New York required cars to to be registered in 1901 and
issued driver's certificates in 1903. In 1919 everyone who
drove more than 10 days a year in New York City was required
to have a license and in 1924 New York state required all
drivers to be license
- New Jersey required a written exam and road test to get
a license starting in 1913
- registration of cars was required in most states by
- licensing drivers came later--required in only 39
states in 1935, mostly without any test. South
Dakota did not require drivers licenses until 1954
- the first gas station was opened by Standard
Oil in 1912 (gas
station museum). From 1921 to 1929,
the number of gasoline stations increased from 12,000 to
- The first drive-in
movie opened in 1933 in New Jersey--by the early 1950s
there were 4,000 of them.
- Road trip culture:
- Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles opened in
1926 (but it was not limited access)
- the automobile trip culture had developed
by the 1920s--all kinds of new
businesses and patterns of life
root beer stands 1919
- The first drive-in restaurant was either
Bob's 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 fast-food restaurant)
with giant cows, world's
largest sixpack, and of course our very own peachoid
- Visits to national parks increased 4-fold
during the 1920s. "See America First"
- Disneyland opened in 1955--the model for a
new generation of amusement parks linked to highways
rather than streetcars or trains.
interstate highway system
- California opened its first freeway in
1940. 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 federal 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.
The Gas Station & Auto Service
Collectibles Web Site
- Automobiles run on gasoline, a relatively
of crude oil. Diesel fuel (which is essentially
the same as home heating oil) is a relatively heavy
fraction. So oil is the general term, gasoline is one
product that can be refined from oil.
- The heaviest fractions (bitumen or rock
asphalt) had been used for centuries for waterproofing and
after 1800 for roads. Kerosene was used in lamps from
- In 1859 an American industrialist, George
H. Bissell began a deliberate search for oil. They
chose a site in Pennsylvania, drilled through 70 feet of
bedrock, and used the oil from the well for illuminating gas,
lubricating oil, and an excellent lamp oil. Within
15 years production in the Pennsylvania field had reached 10
million (360 lb) barrels a year.
- John D. Rockefeller established Standard Oil
in 1870. By building a pipeline system he soon gained
control of 90% of a rapidly-growing industry and became for a
while the richest person in the world.
Beginnings of the Petroleum Industry
early oil refinery
- The oil was distilled to separate the
fractions--first gasoline (1.5 to 15 percent, depending on the
crude), which at first was a nuisance because it was highly
inflammable and had no use, then kerosene, and then
lubricating oil. For a good explanation of
refining see Modern
- With the popularity of the automobile suddenly
gasoline was in greater demand than the other fractions, and
cracking was invented by William Burton at Standard Oil in
1913. Heavier fractions are converted into lighter ones
by subjecting them to high temperature and pressure to break
down the chains of carbon atoms into shorter ones.
Industrial research labs competed to find more
efficient ways of doing this, most important catalytic
cracking with a platinum catalyst in the 1920s.
- problem of engine knock arose just before WWI
as refineries tried to widen the cut. Solved by the 1922
introduction of tetraethyl lead as a fuel
additive. To prevent lead from fouling the engine
ethylene dibromide was added to react with the lead residue
and make sure it was funneled out of the exhaust system into
the atmosphere (at the time the only questions raised were
about hazards of the lead to refinery workers).
- leaded gasoline was phased
out starting in the 1970s because the lead that got into
the atmosphere and fell into the soil in heavily traveled
areas was identified as a significant cause of lead
poisoning. Automobiles had to change as a result.
We were running out of oil that was easy to
extract, but new methods of extraction have postponed the
- how much more oil is there to find and how much can we
extraction methods (at what cost) to extract oil found
in more difficult situations?
- how much environmental damage are we willing to do?
What does this have to do with oil prices?
Will something else replace gasoline during your lifetimes?
- prices are very sensitive to whether supply exceeds
- the growth of the Chinese economy has slowed so demand is
growing more slowly than expected
- in the short run extraction of high cost crude oil will
continue even if the price is low, because the money is
- but in the long run higher priced production will mean
prices trend higher (or supply will diminish, which would also
- the oil/automobile system is a classic case of
technological momentum--so much is invested in one system that
it is hard to change
- but an electric car costs about $2.40 for a full charge
to go 70 miles, much cheaper per mile than gasoline
- the amount of oil available in the earth is limited, but
new technologies allow extracting more
- to get more and more oil we will need to do more and more
environmental damage. When do we say too much?
- how much oil shale are we willing to mine:
- however we extract the oil, burning it still adds to the
carbon in the atmosphere (because we are releasing carbon that
has been locked up in the earth for geological ages)
- how much can we change the situation by improving
- will new technology solve the problem without us having
to change the way we do things?