The 1950's were a time of economic boom in the United States. Americans who had money, or good credit scores, used it to buy themselves houses in the suburbs and the cars they needed to commute to their jobs. Of course, the Big Three car companies dominated the market - General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler - but there were some hold-outs who fought for their place in the field.
1951 Crosley VC Hotshot Roadster Super CD
- Powel Crosley, Jr. (1886 to 1961) was a fascinating character. His greatest ambition in life was to become a car manufacturer comparable to the great Henry Ford; however, he spent much of his life getting sidetracked into immense success in other industries. Crosley was twenty-one years old when he made his first car. It failed. He tried racing cars, but didn't do much better. His first true success came in selling automobile accessories: during World War I, he designed a tire that was more durable than anything else on the market at the time that got a coveted spot in the Sears Catalog. He also produced an incredibly popular flag holder that attached to radiator caps. Somewhere around this time, he tried making a second car. That too failed. But then, in the early 1920's, his son asked him to buy one of the newfangled radios on the market, like the one owned by a friends' family. When Crosley saw the price tag, he said refused to buy one. Instead, he made one that cost one-tenth of the price. Then he marketed his radios. Crosley Radios became ubiquitous. By 1924, the Crosley Radio Corporation was the largest of its kind in the world. Of course, people needed something to listen to on their new radios, so Crosley licensed WLW, his own radio station. He used the station to broadcast baseball games from the team he owned - the Cincinnati Reds - and for all varieties of entertainment. Within a decade of WLW's inauguration, Crosley fitted it with the most powerful transmitter ever heard - it had a 500,000 watt transmitter, substantially higher than any other out there. There are stories that it was so powerful that, on a clear night, his programming could be heard as far away as the North Pole, or get picked up by the coiled springs in beds! Throughout the 1930's, WLW was truly "the nation's station," and introduced American audiences to such future celebrities as Red Skelton, Doris Day, Fats Waller, and Rosemary Clooney. By 1939, The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) realized WLW was too powerful, and reduced their wattage to a mere 500.
- Crosley not only proved highly successful in car accessories and the radio business, but also developed some innovative appliances for home use, including:
- The Xervac - a device that promised to "revitalize inactive hair particles" and to "stimulate hair growth."
- The Icyball - a refrigerator that did not require electricity to ensure that perishables would be kept cool.
- The Shelvador - the first refrigerator with shelving on the door itself.
- (NOTE) The name Crosley is currently used for branding on top-loading washing machines and other appliances; however, it is not affiliated with the company that Power Crosley, Jr built.
- Crosley Motors, which would prove to be Powel Crosley Jr.'s final effort to enter the car market, was established in 1939. He was already quite wealthy, and owned a number of houses, yachts and airplanes for his personal recreational use. He designed his cars to be compact and affordable - in fact, they were no more than 48" wide, narrow enough to be able to fit through the double doors of department stores so that they could be sold next to his other, quite familiar appliances. His first cars, introduced during the Great Depression, sold for around $250, as well. They were introduced just in time for America to get into World War II, and proved very popular during the war because of their fuel efficiency - they could get up to fifty miles per gallon of rationed gasoline! Because of this, Crosley was one of the last car producers in the country to be compelled to repurpose his small factory for war production. More proximity fuzes were made at the Crosley factory than anywhere else in the world during the war years. Proximity fuzes detonate explosive devices automatically when in effective range of their intended target. They became so essential for combat victory, that they are now regarded as the third most important technological development to come out of World War II, behind the atomic bomb and radar.
- After the war ended, Crosley returned to car production. He did not change the fundamental design for his cars, though, and Americans no longer concerned with gas rationing lost interest in his practical little vehicles. In 1949, Crosley introduced the first 4-wheel caliper-type disc brakes, the same year he revealed what many consider to be the first American sports car - the Hotshot. But he did not follow consumer trends and did not upgrade his cars for comfort, convenience and power. He was compelled to shut down car production in 1952.
1956 Cadillac Sedan de Ville
- Cadillac is the second-oldest car manufacturer in the United States behind Buick (both part of the General Motors family). They have maintained a reputation for making luxury vehicles ever since they formed in 1902. Cadillac was the brainchild of a man named Henry Leland. Leland had been an investor in Henry Ford's second automotive company and, when Ford failed to deliver cars of the quality and quantity Leland and the other investors expected, they forced Ford out. He never forgave them, especially Leland, who took over control of production and re-named the company Cadillac.
- Antoine Laumet de la Mothe, sieur de Cadillac (1658 to 1730) was a French explorer in New France, a colony that stretched from present day Eastern Canada in the north to Louisiana on the Gulf of Mexico in the south. His actions in the New World alternated between heroic and criminal, but his greatest legacy was as the founder for the modern city of Detroit. Antoine Laumet de la Mothe adopted the moniker "sieur de Cadillac" to add prestige to his name and to honor the commune in which he was raised in southwestern France. Not only did Leland and the other financiers choose his title for their high-end automobile, but they also adopted his armorial bearings as their emblem. A far better, more prestigious name perhaps, than calling their car La Mothe.
- The de Ville series introduced the coup (two door) in 1949, and the sedan (four door) in 1956. Coups had rear seats that could be accessed by the two doors; however, they were often cramped and uncomfortable. Sedans were designed to be far more comfortable with ample space for leg room. The words "de Ville" translate from its original French to "on the town."
- This incredibly large vehicle could make approximately ten miles per gallon in the city, fifteen in the country. Its turn radius on the was an expansive 24 feet. It definitely had luxuries above and beyond the average car at the same time. It came with such features as power windows, power brakes, power steering, power seats, automatic transmission, and two-speed windshield wipers.
1956 Ford Fairlane
- Henry Ford named his Dearborn, Michigan estate Fair Lane after the district of Cork, Ireland in which his adoptive grandfather Patrick Ahern was born. The 31,000 square foot home, located on a 1,300 square acre estate, was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Marion Mahoney Griffin, and Joseph Nathaniel French.
- The Ford Fairlane automobile was produced between 1955 and 1970. The 1956 model is easily distinguished by the stainless steel “Fairlane stripe” that runs the length of the car.
- Early Fairlanes were available exclusively with straight-6 engines, but quickly offered V8 engines as a more-powerful option.
- 1956 was the first year that Ford offered the Lifeguard system for automobile safety. It was instigated by future Ford President future United States Secretary of Defense under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson Robert McNamara, the Cornell University crash research program, and Ford's own crash test studies, and included three standard features and two more optional features.
- The standard features included: a 'safety' steering wheel with flexible spokes on it; 'double-grip' door handles to minimize the chance for occupants to be ejected in the event of a crash; and a safety rearview mirror to reduce the risk of shattered glass should it break.
- Optional features included: front and rear seat belts (lap only, shoulder straps would come later); improved dash boards that included extra padding and recessed instruments intended to minimize the potential for injury upon impact; sun visors.
Henry Ford II, grandson of the founder of the company, was of the opinion that Lifeguard was an unsuccessful effort on the part of McNamara to update the Ford Company; however, consumer advocate Ralph Nader praised the effort.
1956 Ford Thunderbird
- The Thunderbird was first introduced to the world at the Detroit Auto Show on February 20, 1954 as Ford’s response to the Chevy Corvette and the even-earlier European sports cars that became popular with veterans returning to the United States from the fighting in World War II. Ford called it a “personal luxury car.” It proved to be far more popular than even Ford anticipated, with initial demand far exceeding supply. Ford predicted that initial interest would be for ten thousand Thunderbirds, but over sixteen thousand were requested among preliminary orders.
- The first generation of T-birds (from ’55 to ’57) was a two-seated convertible, with hardtop fiberglass or soft-top fabric options. Notably, the hardtop was solid. The porthole window would be added to the 1956 model (the T-bird on display at the Treasure Tour is a '56 model; however, the top is '55. We're not exactly sure how that happened, but that's all part of the fun!)
- Hardtop T-Birds sold new for $2,944 and the convertible for $3,019. With extra features, such as seatbelts, the price could go as high as $3,800.
- Ford added a second set of seats in 1958, which impacted the Thunderbird's popularity as a sporting vehicle. That would prove a boon for Chevy's Corvette, which struggled through its earlier years. Thunderbird would not return to the two-seat design until 2002, forty-five years later.