A Look At Modern Car Culture

1922 words (8 pages) Essay in History

5/12/16 History Reference this

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A momentary look around your neighborhood today, and what you will see in virtually every driveway is undeniable. It is difficult to not spot an automobile on our roads, streets, and highways. The amount of automobiles used today has substantially increased over time. As we consider it an absolute essential to our everyday lives, little do many know about the foundation and history of how we came to this day in our modern world of cars. The desire to possess automobiles had been recognized in the 1920s and was put on hold during the depressed 1930s. During World War II, production of the automobile for the civilian market was halted and the relentless restrictions were placed upon vehicle use. Moreover, the U.S involvement in the war made travel by personal car much more difficult. By the end of the Second World War, many Americans feared that the resulting drop in military spending might bring back the difficult times of the Great Depression. The burden of paying for the war, on top of the overwhelming destruction of lives and property seemingly had its affect on the country. In spite of these challenges, thriving consumer demand imposed remarkably strong economic growth in the post war period. Americans had emerged from the war with their standard of living largely intact. The automobile industry had successfully converted back to producing cars and grew by leaps and bounds. . By the time the Initial postwar period was transpiring from 1946 to 1954, the automobile industry took rise more than ever, producing the largest number of cars yet; this moment was a defining one in the nation’s culture. Americans were catching up on the consumption they had put off during WWII. This period created a boom in automobile ownership that led North Americans to adopt an automobile-based culture. More generally, this essay offers a different perspective for understanding the history of Americans’ ”love affair” with the car. During the late 1940s and early 1950s, owning a car was a widespread dream, which eventually became a reality. The first post war boom produced record sales and the number of automobile registrations in America more than doubled during that decade after WWII.

The days after WWII, at no time has it been more true. Americans had been deprived of new cars for 3 ½ years, and they were hungry to buy. Roughly 16.3 million Americans had served in the U.S armed forces. For the soldiers, their first wish was to get home; high among their other dreams was a new car. America had endured through economic hardship and material shortages for fifteen years, from the beginning of the Great Depression through the end of World War II. It’s a small wonder, then, that as serving soldiers returned home and monetary prospects seemed much brighter, people were in a definite mood to buy. For the duration of the war, automobile production had dropped significantly as automakers were enlisted in the war effort. The number of registered cars on the road dropped by four million: as they became inoperable, their owners were unable to repair or replace them. But following the immobility and deprivation imposed by depression and war, car- centered recreation returned with a vengeance. Apart from a house, a car was the leading item in consumers’ budgets. It was their symbol of prosperity, their most treasured possession. Helped by better access to finance and encouraged by the mass media, many more citizens then hurried to consume services and goods. America had adopted the automotive culture and made it theirs. To be devoid of a car in the United States was to be virtually in exile. ”Autopia” or the nationwide love affair with the car, as most Americans started to enter what some has called ”the landscape of mass consumption”.

For the working class In the 1950s, auto mobility revolutionized the standard of living for the typical American family. The automobile had become an accepted fundamental of normal living. It made leisure activity a regular aspect of day-by-day experience, and had developed to become the initial focal point of urban family life. After World War II, the prosperity from the year made it possible for most group and classes to partake in the existent rather than imaginary world of easier road travel, and as well as the means to fulfill such other desires as outings and vacations. Given that nearly every car on the market could comfortably hold several people, it also fit the main ideal of the family as a consuming unit. The family car went from being a luxury to being a necessity. This gradually became the birth of American car culture.

Suburbanization included many important components in suggesting new patterns of transportation. Cases such as different family incomes, single families, and low-density units all played a factor in automotive suburbia. Life in the suburban neighborhood began to feel isolated and dejected for some. For millions, commuting became a way of life, they all needed to move back and forth for work, school, shopping, running errands, and travelling to group events. Public transportation, either modes such as trains and streetcars, or the newer buses, could not meet the demands and personal desires for some. By 1949 13 million people lived in communities beyond the reach of public transportation. The private car was the obvious practical answer, and before long, there was an automobile parked on every suburban drive. By the 1960s approximately 15% of families had registered ownership to two or more cars. More houses were being built and sold, suburbia was growing and the demand for cars to cater to every family was on the rise. A boom in housing was stimulated in part by easily affordable mortgages in favor for returning members of the military, added to the expansion. During that same time, the spike in post-war births, known as the ”baby boom,” had increased the amount of consumers. More and more Americans at that time joined the middle class. Roughly around the 1960s automobile consumption had began to become a way of life that Americans progressively exported to the western world and then around the globe.

The widespread dream of owning a car was quickly becoming a reality. The automobile was being transformed into the strongest consumer economy; what began, as a means of vehicle freedom, soon became a necessity. Car movement became the basic form of travel in the urban consumer society. It proved time-consuming for manufacturers to switch assembly lines from military requirements to civilian automobiles. But once it had successfully done so, manufacturers were churning out millions of vehicles to meet with consumer demands. The ambition to own automobiles reached every Americans’ mind, automotive companies wanted to provide to Americans of every class; this brought on a new method. People who wanted a more exciting and stylish car would dispense of an old car that still ran well but was no longer in style. A Person who was less prosperous could then buy it used for less than it was really worth. New styling had both increased the value of the new car and lowered the value of the used car. But by providing other reasons to buy a new car, styling created a financial assistance for the less affluent that made automobile ownership almost universal.

”The automobile industry was dependent on making people buy cars more often”; this led to a whole new craze in automobile advertising and automotive styling. Car companies started to use slogans that expressed the speed, the motion, and the fantasy of cars. This approach undeniably grabbed the attention of consumers. America was ready for a fresh batch of cars and automobile companies had to come up with something different and meet with the demands. Almost every make of American car suddenly took on lines that were angular and dynamic, and people bought. The head of the art and color section of general motors, Harley Earl, practically invented automotive styling. His quick glimpse into pre war period so excited Harley earl that it prompted him to create something that would help shape American culture for much of the next two decades. Earl beheld the P-38 fighter aircraft and conceived the tailfin. ”The rise of the tailfin and the overall heightening of the fantasy content of the automobile were made clear.” It was the 1948 Cadillac, which had the first implication of tailfins and a handful of other features. After the tailfin had become a marked success on the Cadillac, it appeared on virtually every car in America. Most of what was sold during that time continued the streamlined locomotive and ocean liner imagery of the prewar years. ”It was General Motors that was the first to get into styling in a big way. They invented the annual model change, and the ability to get people excited about what was coming next helped bring it to its leading position in the automotive industry.”

”Streamlining was always more of a visual phenomenon than one based on scientific application, but the expression of aerodynamic qualities seemed appropriate to cars and trains in which a rounded streamlining could make a difference.” The streamline look was all the craze amongst younger drivers, a visual wonder that drew on appeal. By the 1950s, a generation of teenagers produced by the post-war boom came with enough income to purchase their own cars. For the teens, these cars were more than just modes of transportation, there were an expression of a lifestyle. It gave the average Joes the opportunity show off their influence, their speed and their style, from the ability to tune and soup up muscle cars. In a way this personified the car as a character. The one good thing that came about this smaller generation was that it had more money to spend, and it wanted to spend it. With the addition of styling, decoration and fantasy to the car, the buyers were more willingly to part with more of their income. Another Automotive trend that started after the whole tailfin craze was set off, when Automobile company, Ford, used the event of the World’s Fair to unveil It’s new young person’s personal car. It was the sport looking, relatively inexpensive Mustang, a car that would essentially become a sensation in the history of the automobile. The Mustang was perhaps the last thing that Americans of all generations really liked.

Virtually every industry followed the success of the automobile companies, whether they succeeded or not. Various industries and manufacturers adopted the automotive production principles. Homebuilders phased out the basic house and started coming up with new and sophisticated models, which could be fitted and personalized with a series of options and upgrades. Furniture makers and appliance furniture, some of which were owned by automobile companies followed the philosophy of bringing new looks and new personalized features to familiar products. Thomas Hines says: ”The Automobile became the characteristic object of the age.” This is a bold statement and it may well be the truth. Car ownership was a universal dream and during the late 1940s and early 1950s it became a reality. Throughout the years of confidence in the twenty to twenty-five years following the Second World War, the automobile moved to center stage in American life. “America’s love affair with the automobile” – it’s a phrase that has been much overused in the last half century. It’s a stereotype. It’s clichéd. And it’s true.

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