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mrcvs

When did automobiles become 'commonly available'?

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I was pondering this today when driving in the snow in Pennsylvania, noting abandoned railroad beds, etc.

First, I do not have a definition of 'commonly available'. If someone can pinpoint exactly what I mean, that would be great!

I guess what I mean is that when did automobile travel become commonplace? I would have thought by the '40's, certainly yes! I have the owner's manual to my 1917 Maxwell, which details how to proceed around horses, so it leads one to believe that horses were maybe more commonplace than cars then. But, then again, I believe 80,000 Maxwells alone were produced in 1917. I do know that the last passenger train in my hometown in Connecticut passed through in 1927 or 1928. It leads me to believe that automobile travel may have been so commonplace by then that it displaced the train. Although, this would have been earlier than I should have thought.

Comments?

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​commonly available and Henry Ford go hand in hand !

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Yes, makes sense...So we are talking about 1908 or so???

I am not an expert on this, but the fall of 1908 was the first of Model T production. Additionally, the Sears Motor Buggy was available in 1908 and was included in Sears catalogs. There were earlier automobiles than both the Model T and the Sears Motor Buggy, so it all depends on exactly what "commonly available" means. That said, 1908 would have been the BEGINNING of commonly available as I see it.

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from 1908 until 1927 Henry Ford built 15 million cars ! That should qualify for common don't you think ?

Wayne

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I don't know if I can help you define "commonplace", but here's an interesting table (about halfway down the page) that shows number of automobiles in the US vs. US population for 1925-1995. In 1925 there was roughly one auto for every seven people in the US (actually, every 6 2/3). That ratio has steadily decreased to about one auto for every two people by the early 1970s, and surprisingly has held about constant since then.

Of course, the US population has grown from about 210 million in the early 1970s to over 310 million now, so the total number of cars has increased, but the ratio has held at about one car for every two people.

I should probably note that if you subtract out all the cars I own (most of which are not registered, of course), the ratio probably goes up significantly. ;)

Edited by joe_padavano (see edit history)

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Joe,

That's exactly what I was looking for. I wonder if any pre-1925 data is out there?

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I suggest that geography also comes into play. Cars were not common in the Western US until much later.

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Joe,

That's exactly what I was looking for. I wonder if any pre-1925 data is out there?

My 1931 Chilton's Multi-Guide has a table on page 142 with vehicle production from 1913 through 1930:

1913 -> 461,500

1914 -> 543,679

1915 -> 895,930

1916 -> 1,525,578

1917 -> 1,745,792

1918 -> 943,436

1919 -> 1,657,652

1920 -> 1,905,560

1921 -> 1,518,061

1922 -> 2,369,089

1923 -> 3,753,945

1924 -> 3,303,646

1925 -> 3,870,744

1926 -> 3,948,843

1927 -> 3,083,360

1928 -> 4,012,158

1929 -> 4,794,898

1930 -> 2,939,791

This is production per year, not number of vehicles on the road which depends on life span of the vehicle. Also the US exported automobiles back then so some of that production was probably not sold domestically.

My guess is the answer to your question is that private automobiles became common place in the mid-1920s.

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If you mean common, everyday use I would put it in the period 1915 - 1925. Before 1915 you were unusual if you owned an auto, after 1925 it was unusual if you didn't.

I base this on a couple of things. One is the rise of the Model T, which at one time ounumbered all other makes combined. The other is changing styles in cars.

Before 1915 most cars featured brass lamps and fittings and colorful paint jobs. They were a luxury and they looked it. You needed a full time chauffeur or you needed to hire someone to polish all the brass and keep the car in good condition.

Starting in 1915 or so this changed. Brass disappeared. Cars were finished in plain black or dark colored enamel with a few nickel plated pieces. This made them much easier to keep clean. Even expensive cars became plain looking. This was the style but it was also a matter of practicality for cars that were used every day.

In the late twenties new types of paint and chromium plating made cars more colorful and attractive, but still easy to keep up.

The point is, previous to 1915 convenience was a secondary consideration when buying a car, after 1915 it was mandatory because a car buyer expected to use his car every day with minimal upkeep.

This is backed up by contemporary reports. At a certain point a car ceased to be a novelty and became an everyday thing. There is no hard and fast date but it must have been around 1915 more or less.

Edited by Rusty_OToole (see edit history)

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This may seem a little random, just some thoughts on the subject.

H L Mencken reported on the Cuban revolution of 1917. In his narrative he mentions certain events that happened in the country, but remarks that it was no problem to get to them because there were plenty of Fords in Havana, even then. In other words it was a simple matter to hire a Model T and driver and go anywhere you wanted.

In another story by an English visitor to Canada in the mid twenties he was struck by the severity of the winter weather in Halifax and Quebec. He describes the natives as being dressed like Arctic explorers and Russian soldiers. He also remarks on the battered looking Ford, Dodge and Essex cars on their spindly wooden wheels, still giving good service though they had obviously met life in the raw.

Similar accounts could be multiplied endlessly. You should look up the film Oil Field Dodge on Youtube, it has been linked here more than once and gives an idea of what cars of the late teens and twenties were capable of.

One last example. There was a story by a botanist who drove an Oldsmobile touring car from California to New York in the early twenties. When he arrived he gave a writeup on the trip to the local newspaper, for which they thanked him politely. He watched the paper for the next 2 or 3 weeks but it was never published. He concluded that by that time, cross country auto trips were so common they were no longer newsworth.

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I can also tell you that horses and cars shared the roads until the thirties or forties with cars becoming more common all the time. In rural areas many farmers used horses or mules until the forties or later. I had an uncle who farmed with horses until 1970 and never owned a tractor or a truck, although he did own a car. He learned to farm with horses in the early 1900s and never saw a reason to change.

Short line and narrow gauge railways were replaced by trucks and cars in the twenties. Before cars came in, you would take a horse and buggy or cab to the nearest railway station and make your journey by train. As cars became more reliable and more comfortable, with sedan bodies and heaters, people used trains less and less. By the fifties and sixties passenger trains were replaced by cars for shorter journeys, airplanes for longer ones.

These changes did not happen overnight. They came in gradually. But cars were certainly an everyday part of the American landscape before 1920.

I could show you cartoons and stories denouncing the auto as the plaything of the rich but all dated before 1915. When the farmers started buying Model Ts, all of a sudden the car ceased to be a luxury.

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"Commonly available"...? For me it was when I was 25. :P

Seriously I think a better measure would be (if the information is available) a chart or graph of the number of car dealerships in the United States over time. There are about 3300 counties in the U.S. At the point where there were (IMHO) about 10,000 new car dealerships in the U.S., given some accounting for the concentration of dealerships in more populated areas like New York, there was probably a dealership of one sort or other (mainly Ford) with a day's reasonable travel of most American homes. At that point I think the phrase "commonly available" is pretty well satisfied.

Does anybody have that info? I haven't been able to find it on the internet.

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"Commonly available"...? For me it was when I was 25. :P

Seriously I think a better measure would be (if the information is available) a chart or graph of the number of car dealerships in the United States over time. There are about 3300 counties in the U.S. At the point where there were (IMHO) about 10,000 new car dealerships in the U.S., given some accounting for the concentration of dealerships in more populated areas like New York, there was probably a dealership of one sort or other (mainly Ford) with a day's reasonable travel of most American homes. At that point I think the phrase "commonly available" is pretty well satisfied.

Does anybody have that info? I haven't been able to find it on the internet.

I think this would be very variable information, in that it would be quite dependent on volume and the general economy. For example, during the recent Depression (yes, I said Depression -- I graduated from college in 1992, and it has been, since then, mostly a Recession, with an absolute depression in the late 2000's, and now, with a bit of an upturn, we are in the Recession that has basically characterized the American economy since the offshoring of jobs in the 1980's and exacerbated by Slick Willy's North American Free Trade Agreement (even though Slick Willy was a fairly good president otherwise) -- but politicians never mention the 'D' word) ...yes, since the recent Depression, a lot of car dealerships closed up due to decreased sales (at least on the east coast), but it was not due to a lesser number of cars on the road, but rather, due to folks driving cars longer due to less available funds to spend on cars. Oddly, despite a lot of dealerships closing, a new car dealership is under construction nearby, likely due to a perceived uptick in the economy. Probably not to increase the number of cars on the road, but rather to provide inventory to replace wrecks on the road that would have been replaced far earlier in a more favourable economy. Also, the young are driving less. When I was 16, I couldn't wait to get my license -- same with all my classmates. Now, I see lots of teenagers and folks in their 20's who do not have a license and have no real desire to do so. Lack of good jobs and the transportation necessary to get these jobs is a reason, but also, the increase of social media is a cause. Texting and the internet (e.g., Facebook) have replaced day to day interactions these days.

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I think this would be very variable information, in that it would be quite dependent on volume and the general economy.

It would also be very dependent on population. What you care about is the number of dealerships per capita, or something like that. And even that is not very helpful, as the number of cars sold per dealership varies greatly. That's why I think the only number that matters is per capita car registrations. Not dealerships, not annual production, etc, etc.

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Nobody has addressed the foreign connection here. I can't lay my hands on the stats, but I've seen someplace that by 1900, there were over a thousand cars in Paris France alone. Geography obviously is a key factor as automobiles were not so common in the more rural farming communities until much later. It had a lot to do with the lack of roads of course. I would agree with the historians that argue the USA was well behind Europe in development of the automobile. I'd go further to suggest that in areas like Paris and London, the automobile was commonplace at a much earlier age than 1908. Heck, the famous original Emancipation Run (London to Brighton) occurred a lot earlier than that. Repeal of the famous "red-flag act" was a result of the mass popularity of early autos.

In my collection of collections, I've got a 1905 program from the Boston Motor Show. It contains a list of registered vehicles in the state of Mass and lists 3269 licensed owners. It also lists 109 manufacturers and dealers.

Still, it really does depend on how you define "common." In this country it does seem like 1908 would be a watershed date and the Model T would be the car.

Terry

Edited by Terry Bond (see edit history)

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Some time in the mid to late twenties there were enough cars registered in the US that everyone in the country could go for a ride at once. In other words, one car for every 4 or 5 people. One commentator said he could well believe it, and the traffic on Sundays proved it.

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Some time in the mid to late twenties there were enough cars registered in the US that everyone in the country could go for a ride at once. In other words, one car for every 4 or 5 people. One commentator said he could well believe it, and the traffic on Sundays proved it.

Well, based on the table that I linked to above, the first time there was on car to every five people in the US was 1937.

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With a little crowding I suppose you could carry 6 or 7 people in one car.

The point is, even one vehicle for every 7 people in the country means they were in common use. I would still put the turning point at 1915 or thereabouts. It is impossible to name an exact date that applies to everyone everywhere, but by 1915 cars were in common use in most parts of the country.

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It would also be very dependent on population. What you care about is the number of dealerships per capita, or something like that. And even that is not very helpful, as the number of cars sold per dealership varies greatly. That's why I think the only number that matters is per capita car registrations. Not dealerships, not annual production, etc, etc.

Should have turned the page before posting earlier on this thread. On page 146 of that same 1931 Chilton's Multi-Guide is a table that contains total registrations by year:

1909 -> 294,000

1914 -> 1,711,399

1919 -> 7,566,446

1923 -> 15,092,177

1925 -> 19,937,274

1928 -> 24,493,124

1929 -> 26,632,857

1930 -> 26,657,072

I'm still putting my money on mid-1920s though given that the total registrations doubled between 1919 and 1923 it could have been early 1920s.

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It is amazing there isn't more early stuff out there, just with the sheer numbers of cars that existed this early.

My guess is that the need for steel in WWII and the lack of appreciation for this stuff for a few decades surrounding WWII led to the scrapping of a lot of the earlier vehicles.

Anyone want to guess how many pre-1900, 1900-1910, 1910-1920, and maybe 1920-1930 vehicles still exist today? Any way of knowing?

For starters, I have a 1917 Maxwell Model 25 Touring car that is one of about 25 1917 Maxwells listed in a master list of Maxwells. The gentleman who has been compiling this list has bee doing it for well over two decades, maybe far longer. I would guess that for every one listed, there may be 3 to 5 others out there not listed. So about 100 of these out of an original 80,000 produced in 1917.

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that is exactly what it is ( wild ass guess ) because there is absolutely no way of knowing. This is not a science !

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With a little crowding I suppose you could carry 6 or 7 people in one car.

The point is, even one vehicle for every 7 people in the country means they were in common use. I would still put the turning point at 1915 or thereabouts.

I agree with this.

By 1915 Henry was turning out Model T's like popcorn and plenty of other manufacturers were working their butts off trying to compete.

I saw another chart at another site with numbers of licensed vehicles in the U.S. and it's unbelievable how many registered cars were on the roads even in 1902....... :eek:

I'll be darned.......I actually found the site with the figures! >>> http://local.aaca.org/bntc/mileposts/1902.htm

There's a lot of other neat tidbits other than just numbers........ :)

http://local.aaca.org/bntc/mileposts/1902.htm

http://local.aaca.org/bntc/mileposts/1903.htm

http://local.aaca.org/bntc/mileposts/1905.htm

http://local.aaca.org/bntc/mileposts/1906.htm

http://local.aaca.org/bntc/mileposts/1909.htm

http://local.aaca.org/bntc/mileposts/1911.htm

http://local.aaca.org/bntc/mileposts/1912.htm

http://local.aaca.org/bntc/mileposts/1915.htm

http://local.aaca.org/bntc/mileposts/1919.htm

http://local.aaca.org/bntc/mileposts/1924.htm

http://local.aaca.org/bntc/mileposts/1929.htm

http://local.aaca.org/bntc/mileposts/1930.htm

http://local.aaca.org/bntc/mileposts/1934.htm

Edited by cahartley (see edit history)

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Hupmobile introduced their first car in the fall of 1908 as the Model 20 with the 20 horsepower engine.

post-41405-143142340012_thumb.png

In the fall of 1910 they added the Model 32 having a more powerful 32 horsepower motor, and a second seat.

post-41405-143142340022_thumb.png

In November 1910, 3 men started a around the world sales promotion tour in a Model 32 with no top, windshield, or front doors.

It is interesting that the Hupp Motor Co, in 1910, was seeking to expand their overseas market by driving the car 46,000 miles in 14 months.

This car residences in the Crawford Museum in Cleveland in HPOF condition.

post-41405-143142340018_thumb.png

The Hupmobile Club currently has members with cars from 1909 through 1914 in the following countries.

Italy, Switzerland, France, Canada, Scotland, England, Australia, Denmark, and South Africa.

My grandfather's photo was taken in San Francisco or Los Angles in a 1907 or 1908 White Steam Car.

He was in both places between 1908 & 1909.

post-41405-143142340026_thumb.jpg

With CAHARTLEY's post above listing cars and American companies looking to expand.

I believe cars were definably "commonly available" early in the teens.

Early in the history of cars, companies could purchase all the parts required and just assemble the car.

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I believe cars were definably "commonly available" early in the teens.

Again, the problem is the definition of "commonly available". For example, one could argue that "commonly available" means that the purchase price of a new car is XX% of the average annual household income (or perhaps the median income). Another definition might have something to do with the ease of purchase, such as per capita number of dealerships (as was suggested above). And of course we've talked about both annual production vs. population and annual registrations.

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