The dawn of Amer­ica’s au­to­mo­bile ob­ses­sion.

Forbes - - CONTENTS -

AT The ouT­seT of the 20th cen­tury, the au­to­mo­bile had its share of doubters, peo­ple who thought “the auto was a rich man’s toy, of which he might soon tire.” Some es­ti­mates from the time had sug­gested that no one earn­ing less than $10,000 a year—some $120,000 in cur­rent terms—would buy one. And in 1920, only about 150,000 Amer­i­can fam­i­lies made that much.

Yet more than 9 mil­lion mo­tor ve­hi­cles were reg­is­tered in Amer­ica that year, a 1,900%-plus in­crease in a decade—cars from Ford and Chevro­let, Buick and Dodge, Stude­baker and Willys-Over­land. With those soar­ing num­bers in mind, Forbes asked, “Is the au­to­mo­bile in­dus­try near­ing the sat­u­ra­tion point?”—and an­swered its ques­tion with a re­sound­ing no. “The de­sire for a car is al­most univer­sal . . . . Some men want a wife, a house, a boat or a dog . . . but prac­ti­cally ev­ery man (and woman) wants to own a mo­tor car.” Less than three years later, U.S. roads were be­ing plied by more than 15 mil­lion cars, buses and trucks. There were 50 mil­lion by the early 1950s, and 100 mil­lion by the late ’60s. To­day’s Amer­i­can fleet: more than 260 mil­lion.

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