New Freedom


Seeing New York in 1904 on an electric trolley.

The ideology of the automobile was one of rugged individualism, adventure, escape from the city, and a touch of lawlessness. The automobile itself helped reinforce those ideals. Driving was a slow process and a dirty one. Cars often broke down on the side of the road and there were no garages or auto repair shops anywhere. In fact, there were barely even roads. Repairs did not come until AAA (founded in 1905) began aiding motorists in demanding that the government provide safe and sturdy roads.


Travel by rail.

The railroad was the major form of long distance transportation. Within cities electric trolleys and trains buzzed workers in and out of the industrial parts of the city. The very wealthy could afford to live on the outskirts of town, called greenbelts. However, the middle class still lived within the city but outside the industrial area. The closer to the factories, the denser and poorer the neighborhoods became. Electric rail and railroads provided those who could afford it a certain style of touring equivalent to bus tours today. These photographs show wealthy citizens touring the city and country leaning out the windows.

The American people had a lot of pride in the railroad system. Standard time zones erupted when train schedules had to be made. Arriving on time to a station through treacherous weather and hard terrain was a triumph of man over nature. However, to a certain degree the railroad time schedules felt binding and undemocratic. The automobile provided a new feeling of freedom, throwing off the shackles of the time schedules. Not having to run at the sound of the whistle or making plans around the railroad schedule felt like radical individualism. When an individual could hop in the car and light out of town on a whim, that was American democracy.

infringement on freedom

The shackles of the predetermined rail lines.

Moreover, the automobile was a more natural method of travel. The railroad demanded, not only that people depart at odd hours; but also, that they shovel meals down at stops. Weather problems did not discourage the trains, but for the motorist, a little rain provided a nice rest stop to chat with one another and admire the view. Motoring required patience, it was backward looking to a simpler time more in tune with natural rhythms. The train blew through the night so that a traveller might fall asleep in Washington, DC and wake up in Cinncinnati. This gap of space was disorienting and disliked. The train, violently chugging through the landscape at 65 miles per hour, provided no more scenery than a greenish blur through a window. However, the automobile averaging less than 20 miles an hour provided the perfect pace for admiring the American wonders. At any point the driver could pull over to the side of the road and admire the picturesque scenery.

On the Road

The Hoboing Spirit was embraced, but not the Hobo himself.

The driver emerged from the vehicle covered in dust and dirt. Because of poor road conditions and the car's want of protective shields the motorist drove with goggles. But the drivers were unconstrained, no rail lines would determine which way they would hither and thither. The train was viewed as a monopoly and thus rejected by the Jacksonian impulse lying dormant in the hearts of Americans. The gypsying spirit helped that impulse, too. The wayfaring stranger and the cowboy were admirable heroes because of their relentlessness to yield to laws.

Muddy Model T

Motoring was not for the Genteel.

The gypsies were the simple, self-sufficient comrades of the 1910s. These people gave way to fancy now empowered by automobility. They carried journals, traded secrets, and depended on nothing but a Emersonian self-reliance. It was a reignited pioneer spirit that birthed "motor gypsying", "motor hoboing", and "nomadic motoring". Gypsying came from the idea of the Bohemian of the 1820s who rejected bourgesie values. However, most American "gentleman gypsies" simply searched for a premodern lifestyle. They were carefree and easygoing and in fact, were not very much like what Teddy Roosevelt called upon. However, the minor details were overlooked and the idea of the gypsy was blurred with the automotorist.

The literature of the subculture employed the idea of a virus of escapism, called Bacillus wanderlusticus. It was said to have grown out of a weariness for the city but could easily be cured by giving into the gypsy impulse. However, it was looked down upon to fall to a chronic case. One should always return home to the city.

I love a road of romance
That speaks of mighty men,
A road that leads me somewhere
And then back home again."

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