Between 1895 and the late 1920s American civilization was transformed by the automobile and the automobile industry. In America Adopts the Automobile, 1895-1910, James J. Flink writes about the formation of an American automobile culture during the period from the introduction of the motor vehicle into the United States in 1895 to the opening of the Ford Motor Company's Highland Park plant on January 1, 1910. He concludes that Americans by 1910 were committed to automobility and that, with the development of a mass market for motorcars, the automobile industry in America had reached a critical turning point. From then on, the automobile and the automobile industry “called the tune and set the tempo of modern American life.”
In contrast to earlier historians of the automobile, Professor Flink avoids narrow concentration on the automobile as a factor influencing and influenced by American civilization. The molding of a favorable public opinion of the automobile by the press, the growth of automobile clubs, the evolution of legislation intended to regulate the motor vehicle, the development of roads and services for the motorist, and regional, class, and occupational differences in automotive innovativeness – these are some of the topics that are dealt with adequately for the first time in this authoritative volume. Forty-six full-page illustrations augment the text.
Familiar topics are also viewed from a fresh perspective. Having made an exhaustive study of the automobile trade journals and popular periodicals of the period, Professor Flink was able to relate the developments in automotive technology and in the automobile industry to sociocultural milieu within which these developments took place. He reaches some novel conclusions. He demonstrates, for example, that from the first the organization of the automobile industry and the industry's technological accomplishments lagged behind the public's expectations that a reliable, cheap car for the masses would soon appear and inaugurate a utopian horseless age. Well before Henry Ford came out with his legendary Model T, popular opinion of the automobile was overwhelmingly favorable, and many people thought that automobility was a panacea for society's ills.
America Adopts the Automobile, 1895-1910, is the first comprehensive, scholarly account og the origins of the American automobile revolution. It adds a new dimension to our understanding of twentieth-century American civilization. In its sequel, “The American Automobile Culture, 1910-1929,” the author will deal with the implications for modern American man of the rapid transformation of institutions and values that the automobile and the automobile industry had brought about by the late 1920s.