The 1920's were a time of amazing change across the United States. The strong economy and the ability to pay for cars on installment plans allowed more Americans than ever to get behind the wheels of their own automobiles. Their biggest challenge was that roads were not very good. Most were dirt, and a little rain could make them impassable. It would take a major overhaul of the nation's transportation infrastructure to make it car friendly, and that all began as mass production techniques were perfected by the Big Three (Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler). Smaller companies felt the pressure of competition during this time, but persevered. They would be fine, though, so long as there were no major financial crises to affect the market, and most people said that was impossible....
Auto Red Bug:
- Auto Red Bug microcars were originally produced between 1910 and 1930. Called “Flyers,” early Red Bugs came with a motor wheel - a fifth wheel located behind the rear wheels that is attached to a gasoline engine. These allow the cars to travel as fast as 25 m.p.h. By 1925, they also offered a battery-powered version that reached 15 m.p.h.
- These expensive wooden vehicles cost $300, so expensive that they sold only to wealthy patrons, usually for use in resorts. Production ceased during the Great Depression, since that was more expensive than a used Model T Ford!
- Jeckyll Island, Georgia has been a retreat for wealthy travelers for decades. One draw for golf lovers was the availability of Red Bugs to zip through the courses on the island. Although the original Red Bugs from the early twentieth century are few and far between, their memory casts a long shadow.
1922 Stanley Steamer:
- The Stanley Motor Carriage Company was established in 1902 by twin brothers Francis and Freeland Stanley after they became hugely wealthy with the sell of their photographic dry plate patent to the Eastman (Kodak) Company.
- Stanley Steamers set many early speed records. A “Flying Teapot,” as they were affectionately called, clocked in at 127 mph during a race at Ormond Beach, FL in 1906.
- Stanley advertised that their cars could be fired up in just ten minutes; however, it often took as much as four times longer to get the water hot enough to boil and create enough steam to start moving.
1924 Cadillac Sedan:
- Cadillac pioneered many early automotive innovations that are still used in cars today, including automatic ignition, enclosed car bodies, electric lighting, and climate control.
- In their 1924 model Sedan, Cadillac introduced their V-8 engine. The balanced two-plane crankshaft design used for the engine proved so efficient it is still used today.
- Cadillac was the first car company to gear their advertisements towards female drivers, showing them driving cars rather than traveling as passengers. This proved extremely successful marketing, with Cadillac becoming a favorite for women.
- Henry Leland, the founder of Cadillac, had a friend named Byron Carter. Carter had established the Detroit-based CarterCar company and was driving on Belle Island near Detroit in December of 1908 when he spotted a woman whose car had stalled. She was stranded on the side of the road. He offered assistance in starting the car for her. At the time, the only way to start a car was to turn a crank connected to the engine. When Carter began turning the crank, he did not realize that the car's driver had neglected to retard the spark, which was a necessary step prior to cranking. The crank kicked back and connected with Carter's jaw and broke it. The injury became infected and Carter died a few weeks later. Leland was devastated and committed himself - and Cadillac - to preventing a similar accident from ever happening again. He hired a young automotive engineer named Charles Kettering to develop an automatic ignition system that would make hand cranks obsolete. Kettering (1876 to 1958) managed to develop a self-starter for Cadillac within a few years, and they incorporated it in their vehicles starting in the early 1910's. Other automotive companies were slower to embrace the technology, though, and cranks would continue to appear on some model vehicles well into the Twenties. Kettering, meanwhile, would find employment with General Motors and continue to innovate for the company for decades. One of his less praiseworthy inventions (in hindsight, anyway) was leaded gasoline. It helped reduce knocking in engines, which was a nuisance for many, many years, but emitted an exhaust that proved harmful not only to the environment but to humans as well.
1927 Willys-Overland Whippet:
- John Willys was a successful salesman of Overland cars who wound up buying the company in 1907. He designed the popular Whippet (named after the race dog).
- Introduced in 1926, these small (for their era) 4-cylinder cars were described as light, sturdy, fast, inexpensive, stylish, dependable, affordable, roomy, and well made. Truly innovative, some believe this car was the inspiration for Henry Ford to retire his Model T, revamp his factory, and introduce the Model A.
- Whippets had four-wheel drive, as did the vehicle Willys produced for the military beginning in 1941: the Willys Jeep.
1929 Ford Model A:
- Ford produced the Model T from 1908 to 1927. During that time, automotive technology improved dramatically and, while Ford regularly upgraded the T, he did not keep up with the competition. In 1927, he shut down his plant, enacted major innovations, then reopened with production of his Model A.
- In only four years, almost five million A’s were produced.
- Rumble seats first appeared in horse drawn carriages as early as the 1860’s, and they remained popular into the 1930’s. Passengers had no protection from the elements, and the seat could be converted into trunk space when unused.
1920's Republic Motor Company Truck:
- The Republic Motor Company was in business from 1913 through 1929. By the time they stopped production, they were the largest company in the world to exclusively produce trucks in the country. They were a major supplier of “Liberty trucks” to the military during World War 1.
- After the war, a massive surplus in vehicles saturated the market and Republic struggled to stay in business; however, the 1928 death of company president Oliver Hayes compelled them to go into receivership. Republic changed hands - and names - numerous time before White Motor Company finally took control of them in 1951.