The 1910's saw great advances in the development of automobiles. Hundreds of different mom and pop shops opened up around the country to produce and sell cars, caught up in the national obsession with movement; however, the field would start shrinking almost as soon as it opened up due to the great successes of a few producers. Represented at the American Treasure Tour are some of the more elite vehicles put on the road (the Franklins from the last decade, for example), and cars intended for customers of more practical means (notably, the Mobilette). Enjoy the cars displayed here in their preserved condition, and just imagine how different life was when these were the new big thing on the road networks that began construction around the country at an astounding pace. Highways were a long way away, though!
1914 Woods Mobilette:
- Francis Woods of Harvey, Illinois produced the Mobilette Model 4 between 1914 and 1916. It was the first American “cycle car,” intended to fill the ‘transportation gap’ between the motorcycle and the automobile. They were lightweight, low-powered, and simple vehicles to operate. The cycle car was hugely popular in Europe at the time, and Woods hoped to cash in on the novelty of this sort of design in the United States.
- Most cycle cars of the era incorporated belt drives or chain drives that connected the motor to a single wheel that propelled the vehicle forward, effectively avoiding the complexity and expense of including a differential. Pros and cons of the car include:
- Pro: They tended to have superior gas mileage due to being lightweight.
- Pro: They had fewer luxuries than other cars, which served to keep them more affordable.
- Con: The cars provided limited protection against adverse weather conditions.
- Con: The narrowness of most cycle cars, including Woods' Mobilette caused problems when driving on dirt roads that had been rutted by larger cars. The wheels did not fit in the ruts and made driving much more difficult.
- Absent any modern luxuries, the Mobilette was considered quite affordable for its era, averaging $400. It had superior gas mileage and could travel at an impressive 40 m.p.h. The extreme narrowness of the car required that the seats were staggered to fit two passengers with leg room.
- The era of the cycle car began its decline around 1918, in large part because of the amazing popularity of Ford's Model T, which had been introduced a decade earlier. The death knell was unequivocally struck by the early 1920’s, when Ford and Chevrolet got into pricing wars. Smaller car producers proved unable to compete and were eventually forced to consolidate with other companies or shut their doors completely.
- The Maxwell-Briscoe Company of Tarrytown, New York produced Maxwell automobiles between 1904 and 1925. Its founders were Jonathon Dixon Maxwell and Benjamin Briscoe. When their factory in Tarrytown burned down in 1907, Maxwell-Briscoe decided to move out to New Castle, Indiana, where they built the then-largest automobile factory in the world. (Spoiler Alert: Maxwell used this factory until they sold out to Chrysler in 1925, and it was in use by Chrysler until its demolition in 2004.)
- Walter Flanders purchased and reorganized the company in 1913, renaming it the Maxwell Motor Company. For a time, Maxwell was regarded as one of the largest and most successful automobile manufacturers in the country, as big as Ford or Buick. During World War I, Maxwell overproduced to keep up with demand, which fell away after peace was declared. An economic recession after WWI bankrupted many companies, including Maxwell, which compelled them to sell out to Walter Chrysler, who merged it with his own company by 1925. Chrysler continued to use the name until 1928, when he reworked the Maxwell automobile and renamed it the Plymouth.
Jack Benny was a hugely popular comedian who performed on radio (from 1932 through 1952 ) and television (1949 to 1965), also dabbling in film work as well. One of his more popular recurring gags found him trying to get around in his Maxwell car. He drove a Maxwell long after the company had been absorbed by Chrysler. Despite his car's obvious limitations, he refused to upgrade to a more modern car because his proved functional and cheap. It was loud, smokey and jerky. When his show was on radio, a special effects machine created the noises of the car but, as the story goes, the machine broke down one day during a live performance, and voice actor Mel Blanc, who worked on the show, filled in for the car. His performance was so funny that he continued "playing" the car for years to come. Mel Blanc's voice is more familiarly remembered today for animated characters he brought to life for the Warner Brothers Studios, notably Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, and pretty much the whole wacky crew. The Maxwell used in most of Benny’s productions was a 1916 Model 25 Touring Car; however, he would also occasionally be found riding in a 1923 vehicle. Benny’s original 1916 Maxwell is currently in the hands of a private collector in California named Ernie Ferrington, although it had been on display at Universal Studios for almost fifty years prior to Ferrington’s acquisition of it.
1916 International Harvester Company Auto-Buggy:
- In 1902, the business tycoon J.P. Morgan merged the McCormick Harvesting Machine Co., Deering Harvester Co. and three other smaller businesses (Milwaukee; Plano; Warder, Bushnell, Glessner) to create the conglomerate International Harvester (IHC). Morgan's skill in doing such things was extraordinary. Other major American companies formed by Morgan include AT & T, U.S. Steel, and General Electric.
- The McCormick Harvesting Machine Company was the largest of the five, though, and easily the most significant in developing improvements to American agriculture with Cyrus McCormick's innovations in reaper technology. Cyrus Hall McCormick first displayed his reaper in 1831. It was patented in 1834. With his brother Leander, Cyrus established his company in Chicago and did extremely well primarily because of his skill for marketing and international sales. After his death in 1885, control of the company went to his son, Cyrus Jr., whose indifference to employees and work conditions led to the infamous Haymarket Square Massacre in Chicago a few years later (the inspiration for international acknowledgement of workers with Labor Day holidays).
- The production of farm equipment has always dominated IHC’s business; however, they have also created vehicles for private use ever since they were first established. That includes the production of SUVs and large vans.
- Between 1907 and 1916, IHC produced the Auto-Buggy for general use. It has a 2-cylinder, air-cooled engine that produces twenty horsepower.
- During the twentieth century, International Harvester was incorporated into the Navistar International Corporation (as of 1986). Navistar is a holding company that owns and maintains the companies behind production of trucks, school and commercial buses, and substantial elements of other vehicles - notably the chassis for motor homes, Diesel engines for pick-up trucks, vans and SUV's. Their headquarters are in Lisle, Illinois.
1917 International Motor Company Pick-Up Truck:
- Mack trucks are some of the best-knowns - and one of the oldest producers of - vehicles still made in the United States; however, they have not always been called Mack, and they were not always owned by the famous Mack brothers. In 1911, the Macks sold their company and the new owners consolidated Mack with the Saurer Motor Company, calling the new conglomerate International Motor Company. To avoid confusion with other companies named "International," the Mack name came out of retirement and appears on vehicles to this day.
- Jack Mack, the oldest of five Mack brothers, started making carriages beginning in 1890, before transitioning to wagons and cars. He experimented with steam and electric power prior to concentrating on gas. He sold his first tourist bus in 1900, which was used to take sightseeing tourists through Prospect Park, Brooklyn. The bus was so well crafted that it ran smoothly for eight years, traveling over one million miles. Mack buses developed a reputation for quality and reliability that also translated into their truck production.
- Jack, Gus, William, Joseph and Charles Mack were, at one time or another, also involved in the family business.
- During World War I, Mack trucks outsold the other brands within IMC and developed a reputation for their rugged vehicles, which were described by soldiers as having “the tenacity of a bulldog.” By 1922, IMC changed their name to Mack Trucks, Incorporated with the intention to reduce confusion with International Harvester, and to concentrate on their most famous brand. The bulldog became their official emblem, with the current bulldog adorning the hoods of Mack trucks ever since 1932.
- Mack has achieved a certain recognition for having their factories in upstate Pennsylvania. In 2000, they became a subsidiary of the Swedish Volvo Company, but they have retained a strong presence in both Allentown and Macungie, Pennsylvania since 1905. Interested travelers can visit the site of their specialty garage in Allentown, which includes a notable museum as well.
1917 Ford Model T Huxter Truck:
Every list of "the most important vehicles ever made" will include the Ford Model T. Known for its durability, low cost and versatility, the Model T dominated the car market between 1908 and 1927. It was not the first modern combustion engine-powered vehicle ever made - that claim goes to the 1886 Benz Patent Motorwagen - nor was it even the first car created on the assembly line, as many people mistakenly assume - that would be the Oldsmobile Curved-Dash Runabout. But Henry Ford's innovations truly changed the way cars were produced as well as how Americans lived their lives:
Ransom E. Olds deserves credit for developing the first stationary assembly line for automotive production. That means the car stayed in the same place while workers with different skillsets would move from car to car to contribute to the final product. What Henry Ford did was perfect the moving assembly line. That means his workers remained stationary while the incomplete cars moved to them and they added their part or tightened their bolt as it kept moving. This was a significant improvement in the art of building cars, but it didn't happen overnight. When Ford began production on Model T's in 1908, he was making them much like everyone else, except his simple and affordable cars proved so appealing that he was unable to keep up with demand. Compelled to come up with demand, he developed more effective methods of production, notably his version of the moving assembly line. Oddly and notably, he was actually inspired by the "disassembly lines" that proved effective in the slaughterhouses of Chicago. Once he got the basic idea for his assembly line down, he tweaked it, then he added improvements to it. In the first years of production, it took approximately twelve-and-a-half hours for Ford's employees to make one car. By the early 1920's, they could whip out a car in only ninety-three minutes.
The development of the moving assembly line proved highly effective for car production; however, it was tedious and painfully boring work. The men (and, very rarely, the women) on the line were forced to remain in one spot all day, where they stood as they added the same part to dozens of cars or tightened the same bolts on the car for hour after hour. There was no variety and few breaks. The monotony proved devastating for worker morale, and Ford's turnover rate for employees proved to be a significant problem. Ford's employees worked nine hour workdays and, for that, received $2.34 a day. Ford made a brilliant move: he introduced the $5.00 eight-hour day. His competitors were livid and accused him of trying to destroy the industry by rewarding unskilled, often immigrant laborers at his factories. What he was doing not only inspired loyalty among his personnel, but also created another market for his cars (of course, if you worked at Ford you wouldn't have the guts to drive a Chevy!). There was a downside to this for, too, because Ford felt the better pay gave him the right to regulate private lives as well. He had investigators ensure that workers lived to his high standards by checking on them in their homes. If they retained cultural traditions from their Old World homes, Ford expected them to shed these and adopt American customs, as well.
Mass production technology reduced the cost of manufacture substantially, which made it affordable for middle-class Americans: in 1908 a new car cost $850. In 1925, it cost less than $300. For a time, more than 40% of all cars on the road were the Model T, known popularly as the “Tin Lizzie.” The popularity of the Ford Model T caused a decrease in demand for train transportation as well. By the time the Model T was retired in 1927, over fifteen million of the vehicles were produced - a record that would last until 1972, when the Volkswagen Beetle would break it.
The Model T did so well that Ford invested very little money into advertising between 1914 and 1923, only bringing it back in ’23 when the competition began intensifying.
The Model T has become a folkloric symbol of the democratization of transportation, and had a direct impact on how Americans saw transportation. People became obsessed with the automobile. Contrary to popular conception, the Model T was not actually available in black between 1908 and 1913. Then, to reduce cost, they switched to exclusively offer the fast-drying black paint they used from 1913 to 1925, before offering multiple colors again. Its 40 horsepower engine could only go as fast as 40mph, with two speeds and reverse. The 10-gallon fuel tank fed the engine through gravity, so the car often required driving reverse when going uphill to ensure that gas would reach the engine. Generally very reliable, the Model T was not especially comfortable or attractive, and it incessantly rattled. The use of stronger steel, multi-fuel engines that operated with gasoline, kerosene, and ethanol, as well as a separate cylinder head and block, all contributed to the superiority of the T over other cars of the era.
- Henry Ford's legacy in the automotive industry truly spans the entirety of the twentieth century. He was often brushed off as a flash in the pan by his early competitors, but he showed that he was not only resilient, but positively visionary in his approach to automotive manufacturing.
- Hucksters. In the early twentieth century, there was no such thing as a supermarket. (Although this is still open for debate, some say the first self-service supermarket was the Memphis, Tennessee-based Piggly Wiggly in 1916.) In their place were the butcher shop, the dry goods store, and the huckster truck. Hucksters were people who often traveled from place to place with their wares, offering small goods such as fruit and vegetables, or whatever they could put on the back of their trucks. Model A Ford's were very adaptable cars, and it was not uncommon to find modified versions of them driving along urban or country streets. Their flatbeds or backs often had wooden shops constructed on them. Inside would be storage for the items on sale, while a window or a door would allow the huckster easy access to sell from them. The closest thing you might find to the huckster truck today would either be the ice cream truck or the hot dog vendor. They live on, just in different forms.
Although this truck is not on display at the American Treasure Tour, it does show a true huckster in action.