America in the early 1900's was different than European countries. How? It was vast. And in 1900 this vast space was, for the most part, disconnected and uncrossable. Railroads, canals, navigable rivers, and horses provided the only ways for people and goods to reach one another. Sixty-three million people, living on farms, used 18 million mules and horses to make a living. If you didn't live in a city--the most likely case in the late 1890's and early 1900's--you didnít see other people. This isolated way of life, however, was not meant to be in the post-industrial age of America. The automobile and the road were destined for each other.
In the 1890's, with the patented Dunlop tire, the bicycle took the stage as America's newest and most independent way of travel. People across the country organized bicycle clubs and took to the countrysides. In reaction to the dreary and mechanized world of the industrial revolution, men and women across the country found it necessary for health, attitude, and overall moral uplift to get in touch with America's natural beauty. Thus, the bicycle provided the easiest way. More important than increased outdoor activity, the bicycle craze stirred people to ask for new and better roads--paving the way for the automobile and Route 66.
Nikolaus Otto, a twenty-eight year old clerk in Cologne constructed the first combustible engine. This two-cylinder simple engine was later followed by more advanced stationary engines. Although many inventors led to the final invention of the "modern" automobile, German engineer Karl Benz secured a U.S. patent in 1888 for the first automobile and "Benz" became the most popular name associated with the car's invention. A year later Dunlop rubber came to the U.S. and automobile interest soared.
At first, car production in the late 1890's and early 1900's was costly. But more expensive than making a car was buying one. In 1903, the Association of Licensed Automobiles--comprised of Electric Vehicle, Olds, Packard, Winton, and six other manufacturers--ensured a monopoly on car production. This monopoly kept this new horseless carriage within wealthy elitist circles. The average cost of an automobile was between 3000 and 5000 dollars--a ridiculous amount for a vehicle that could hardly handle the bumpy dirt carriage roads. The automobile became a status symbol not the most popular way of travel. Yet, in years to come, conspicuously consuming America would have to give way to a mass consumer culture. The man behind the wheel of this change was none other than Henry Ford.