THE INVENTION OF THE AMERICAN VACATION
THE AUTOMOBILE 1914-1932
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EARLY HISTORY
HENRY FORD
LATER HISTORY

Early History

By the midnineteenth century inventors under the science of thermodynamics created the idea for an internal combustion engine that would run on liquid or gaseous fuel. Other self-propelled vehicles, the steam engine for example, were external combustion engines. That means that the fuel is burned in a boiler separate from the engine. A gas, in this case steam, carries the energy between them. The internal combustion machine was considered more efficient because there was no mediating fluid. To overcome the problems associated with the internal combustion engine, controlling explosions, achieving repeating ignitions, and others, were much more numerous. Nicholas Otto, a German inventor, was the first to develop the first workable internal combustion engine powerful enough to pull a vehicle. He used a system of four stroke pistons. The first stroke drew up the mixture of fuel and air, on the second the mixture was compressed, the third stroke resulted from the ignition of the compressed mixture and the fourth stroke exhausted it. A lightweight version of Otto's engine would be powerful enough to carry a vehicle. By the 1880's three Germans had developed such an engine: Gottlieb Daimler, Wilhelm Maybach and Karl Benz.

Bicycles No More

The Automobile is King.

Americans were slow to adopt the automobile. By the 1890's France, Germany, and Britain all had motor vehicles on the market. The horseless carriage began in America with the development of the bicycle by mechanics Charles E. and J. Frank Duryea. These brothers successfully copied the Benz automobile in 1893. Others soon caught on to the fad. Elwood Haynes, Edgar Apperson, and Elmer Apperson developed another successful automobile in 1894 in Indiana. Hiram Percy Maxim watched the development of the Otto engine and built one himself which he attached to a tricyle in 1895. The journal Horseless Age, first published in 1895, marked the beginning of the turning point in American acceptance of the self-propelled carriage. Thanksgiving Day of 1895, the Chicago Times Herald sponsored the first automobile race. J. Frank Duryea won at the stunning rate of 8 miles an hour. In 1896 automobiles entered the American commercial market.

"All over the country mechanics and inventors are wrestling with the problems of trackless traction, all signs point to the motor vehicle as the necessary sequence of methods of locomotion already established and approved. The growing needs of our civilization demand it; the publis believe in it, and await with lively interest its practical application to the daily business of the world."
-Horseless Age


For the most part American automobile companies were assemblers, not manufacturers. Parts were purchased from suppliers one by one, imported anywhere from bicycle manufacturers to warehouses. There were some exceptions of course, like James A. Packard's H-slot gearshift. In 1899 about thirty companies were registered automobile producers and collectively manufactured about 2,500 vehicles. By 1900 the Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers was formed and Colonel Albert Pope switched gears from the bicycle industry to automobile manufacturing. By 1910 it was clear that manufacturers were not able to meet the high demand.

There were two distinct ways of manufacturing the automobile which fed into two quite different markets. The first way was to hire skilled mechanics and carpenters who would assemble the automobile as a whole, one at a time. The second way was to adapt a system of mass production, use cheaper products for parts, and produce a car lighter in weight. The first way, which was more expensive in time and parts, appealed to the upper class. It was a touring car for people who could afford a chauffer to drive and clean the car. They were custom built for the leisure class. The second method of production was much cheaper and less time consuming. It was a light, mass produced vehicle for the masses. This class could not have afforded a horse and buggy nor a chauffer in the pre-Horseless Age. This type of production paralleled the growth of another new technology of the same era. The development of the prairie house enabled middle class citizens to assemble their own single family home themselves. However, the upper classes still relied upon skilled workers to build homes made of expensive materials custom made for them.

In 1890 the United States Census reported that the western frontier was closed. In 1899 the United States Census of Manufacturers first compiled the statistics of the automobile industry. This was America's new frontier.

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