Largely considered the most influential technological invention of the 20th century, the automobile changed the way people worked, lived and played. The overwhelming demand for automobiles in the 1920s, fueled by the era's booming economy, became the catalyst for everything from new manufacturing processes to urban sprawl and the rise of fast-food restaurants.
Prior to Henry Ford’s invention of the Model T in 1908, automobiles were expensive and painstakingly built. As the demand for cars grew, Ford’s use of the assembly line to mass-produce cars allowed his company to produce and sell cars at a much faster pace than his competitors, in both the United States and overseas. Ford’s state-of-the-art manufacturing processes made the cars affordable for the average consumer. By the late 1920s, other manufacturers, hoping to steal some market share, began to adopt Ford’s production techniques, including General Motors and Chrysler, as consumers demanded more sophisticated cars to replace their old-fashioned Model Ts.
The demand for automobiles also had a direct impact on where people lived. Those who lived in rural areas now had relatively easy access to urban centers, including schools and health care. The ever-increasing demand for cars also changed the way consumers shopped; the 1920s saw the development of the country’s first shopping malls. Moreover, suburban developments began to grow as the public no longer had to make their homesteads near rail lines or train stations. People either lived and worked in the city, or lived and worked in the country on a farm. The automobile allowed workers to easily commute to and from jobs in the city, a phenomenon that had never been seen before.
More Cars, More Roads
As the auto industry boomed, so did road construction. While early cars, such as the Model T, were designed for use on rural roads that were simply glorified muddy trails, the snazzier cars of the 1920s were not. Transportation advocates often made their voices heard at public meetings and, to meet consumer demand, the federal government began funneling more money into road construction with the passage of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1921. The government invested more than $10 billion in road development, contributing to the 1920s economic boom.
Fuel and Food
The demand for cars also accelerated the development of travel-friendly businesses. From 1920 to 1930, the number of cars in America nearly tripled, from 8 million to 23 million, according to U.S. History.org. The increasing number of cars accelerated the demand for more gas stations, convenience stores and auto-repair shops. The increase in motorists also benefited the food industry, as roadside restaurants and quick-service eateries popped up all over the country, including the country’s first drive-in restaurant, the Texas Pig Stand, as well as Howard Johnson’s famous ice cream stands, which later evolved into a hotel and restaurant chain.
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images