America’s Car Culture

The first gas powered cars appeared in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They were literally motorized carriages. Carriages like the 1890 Studebaker below were the predecessors of cars. The Brockway looks a lot like the carriage, but it has a motor.

Ford produced its first car in 1903. The Model A Runabout shown below listed for $750.

Ford's first car

1903 Ford Model A Runabout

Much of the growth of car ownership in the early part of the 20th century is attributed to Henry Ford and the Model T. Ford’s signature car was the first to be mass produced and the first to go to market at a rate that was affordable to a larger class of Americans.

1924 Ford Model T Coupe

1924 Ford Model T Coupe

The growth of cars created a whole new segment of the transportation industry. Whether it was taxis, limos or car services, automobiles provided a new and more personal form of public transportation.

The 1920’s were a time of prosperity for America. And what better way to tell the world about your participation in that prosperity than to drive a luxury automobile.  While the prosperous 20’s came to an abrupt end, luxury models like the ones below continued to be a status symbol for their owners.

As more Americans owned cars it gave rise to a new type of vacation, the camping vacation. With the more affordable cars, this represented a more affordable vacation as travelers could bring their own food and set up camp roadside. Below is a 1930 Model A Ford hooked up with a trailer.

Camping in a Ford

1930 Model A Ford

The 1940s and 50s were the golden age of road trips for American families. They headed west, maybe visiting the national parks. They camped. They visited relatives. They headed to the shores and beaches. And they headed south in the winter. Roadsters like this one were ideal for mid-century road trips.

1946 Pontiac Torpedo

1946 Pontiac Torpedo 8 Sedan Coupe Model 2507

By the late 1940’s a new medium was taking over the living rooms of American homes, the television. Many thought that spelled the end for radio. But what the doomsayers of radio failed to take into consideration was that at this time and for several decades into the future you couldn’t take your TV with you. There were 5 million cars sold in the U.S. in 1951. By 1971, that number of 10 million. And almost all of them had a radio embedded in their dashboard.

in car radio

The emergence of a distinct teen culture in the 1950’s is often associated with the birth and growth of rock and roll and the fashions and lifestyles it accompanied. The automobile also played an important part. Not only was it the means for socializing, whether it be at the car hop or the drive in, but it also gave teens a private space to do any number of things their parents would probably not have approved of. There was another wave of prosperity after World War II and another wave of growth in car ownership. There probably weren’t many teens fortunate enough to cruise in a 1954 Corvette like the two below, but this car was a product of the youth-inspired style of the 50’s.


Few Americans gave much thought to gas mileage and economy prior to the oil embargo in 1973. So throughout the sixties car manufacturers made their pitch to buyers based on muscle and comfort. Wide-bodied low riders like this 1960 Chrysler likely didn’t break double digits in miles per gallon, but at the time nobody was counting (and we weren’t wearing seat belts either).

1960 Chrysler 300F Convertible

1960 Chrysler 300F Convertible

 (All photos are from the America on Wheels Museum in Allentown, Pa.)

America On Wheels Museum


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10 Responses to America’s Car Culture

  1. texaslawstudent says:

    Pretty cool pictures man!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Donna Janke says:

    I love the way the cars tell a history story. Great photos. It looks like the America on Wheels Museum would be an interesting place to visit.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. M.B. Henry says:

    What nice pictures and a great write-up for those of us who are lacking in car knowledge! 🙂 Really enjoyed this, looks like an excellent museum

    Liked by 3 people

  4. pjlazos says:

    Great, Ken. There is a similar museum (forget the name) next to Luray Caverns in Luray, Virginia. I didn’t realize that camping became a thing when cars started becoming affordable. I thought it was conservationists pastime. Good to know all of America has “green” roots!

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I’ve always liked muscle cars for some reason. Their big, heavy bodies and rumbly engines, I guess. I drove a Mustang for four years, but traded it in when I moved to NC. That car was a lot of fun. Ironically, that sports car was the only vehicle I ever own that I didn’t get in some sort of fender-bender in, and I’ve had many of those…


  6. So interesting and an amazing history! Love how you punctuated
    so much personality here w/comic cars. LOL!!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. JoHanna Massey says:

    I’d never made the connection between the beginning of camping and the affordable automobiles. I love photographing the old beauties, and your photos indicate you do too. Would enjoy driving one of the roadsters. This photo essay was just filled with interesting information Ken. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Motor Bat says:

    Reblogged this on A Garage Full of Cars.


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