Learn about Life in the 1920s

The rapidly growing automobile industry led by Henry Ford and the Ford Motor Company produced new and better models every year to supply the insatiable public demand. Increased wages and lower cost vehicles made possible through mass production meant that cars became increasingly affordable, although 3 out of 4 cars were bought on installment plans.

1920's Automobile

1920's Automobiles and Road Transportation

Roads that had been designed for horse transport began to deteriorate under the steadily increasing load of traffic. In 1906 local governments supplied 96 per cent. of the road funding. In 1927 the State governments supplied about 37 per cent., the Federal Government 10 per cent., and the local governments 53 per cent. While horse-drawn traffic prevailed, roads were a matter for local administration, but the motorcar brought the question into a broader jurisdiction.

The funding problem for building and maintaining roads suitable for motor cars was largely solved by the introduction of a tax on gas. By the end of 1929 all the states had introduced a gas tax varying from two to five cents per gallon that raised millions of dollars per year.

Roads (including wooden roads) had to be redesigned and rebuilt to accomodate the automobile, new road rules had to be introduced, standardized road signs erected, and methods of controlling traffic (like traffic lights) implemented in densely populated areas.

WILLS-SAINTE-CLAIRE AUTOMOBILE

Vehicles required much higher road clearances than modern cars due to the poor state of roads and tracks, hence the large diameter skinny tires of the day which were effective at cutting through mud to reach more solid ground.

The car enabled people to travel much further afield than foot or horse had permitted. Touring vacations became popular, but motorists had to plan carefully as there were often long distances between petrol stations and breakdowns were fairly common. Tourist parks (Motels) and other facilities sprang up to service the needs of travelling motorists. Service station chains cashed in on the trend by supplying maps that highlighted their business locations, and then sold travellers food and drink as well as petrol and oil.

Photo of a small 1920's Service Station

New makes of cars proliferated - from the low cost Model T Ford through to the expensive Duesenberg and even more expensive Rolls Royce. Most of the carmakers no longer exist or have been amalgamated but many of the old car names like Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, Dodge, Fiat, Ford, Lincoln, and Oldsmobile live on today. Others like the Auburn, Cole, Crow, Davis, Dixie, Durant, Elcar, Grant, King, Kline, Lafayette, Kurtz, Marmon, Mercer, Overland, Peerless, Pilot, Roamer, Saxon, Stearns, Velie, Wescott and Winton are only seen in vintage car shows today.

One of the biggest motoring events of 1927 was the release of the "new Ford", the Model A, which replaced the long-standing Model T after 18 years of production.

Most of the early cars were open tourers (convertibles) but it didn't take long before they were enclosed and fitted with car heaters to improve passenger comfort. Companies that had formerly produced horse drawn vehicles became vehicle manufacturers or built bodies on chassis produced by others. Many of the expensive cars were custom built for their wealthy owners, who often had a chauffeur/mechanic to drive them.

Many of the automotive innovations that we think of as being modern were in fact introduced in the 1920's. Things like electric powered cars, four wheel drive, front wheel drive, and even hybrid fuel/electric cars.

Car advertisements became more sophisticated as psychology was employed by copywriters. Previously, ads had focused on specifications, engine horsepower, and features - but the late 1920's ushered in the style of advertising that appealed to people's emotions rather than intellect. Automobile manufacturers also targeted women drivers by advertising in women's magazines and by making cars more appealing to women. They did this by increasing the range of colors, improving the quality and style of upholstery and interior linings, and by making cars easier to drive and maintain.

Many of the car paint colors and color schemes were based on English horse-drawn coach livery, and even chauffeur driven car designs resembled horse-drawn coaches. Never before had cars been so colorful and attractive, with flowing curves and rakish lines. Bright paint colors and dual tone color schemes were features of many 1920s cars - with the exception of Fords which for many years only came in black.

Vehicle comfort levels improved with the introduction of heaters, balloon tires, and improved suspensions including better shock absorbers.

It didn't take long for Insurance companies who specialized in building and life insurance to realize that the advent of the motor car opened up a whole new market of car insurance. Cars were very expensive items and owners also realized they needed protection from theft and damage. Car insurance rates were very high initially which generated a lot of complaints from motorists.

The wealthy disposed of some of their excess wealth in the late 1920's by splurging on expensive ($15,000-$50,000) european cars like Mercedes and Hispano-Suiza which they imported into America. America too had its luxury cars like the Cadillac and Packard that were favored by the big name movie stars and wealthy individuals.

1920's Automobile and Road Transportation Resources

Listed below are sources of information for all aspects of 1920's automobiles and road-based transport. They cover vehicles, personalities, motor racing, roads, statistics, and even politics.

Henry Ford Autobiography
MY LIFE AND WORK - by Henry Ford. A fascinating look behind the scenes at the birth of the automobile industry.

Automotive Industry Events of 1922
Press releases detailing management changes and technological advances of 1922.

List of 1922 Automobiles
Full List of Car Makes and Prices in 1922.

Vintage Car Clubs

Roaring 20's Antique and Classic Car Club
The Roaring 20's Antique and Classic Car Club was formed in 1969 to promote one basic theme, "the preservation of the antique mode of automobile transportation". Our annual car show at the Southbury Training School, held the third Sunday in September, is the largest one day antique and classic car show in New England.

Buick Car Club of America
The BCA is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and restoration of automobiles built by the Buick Motor Division of General Motors Corporation -- Detroit, Michigan, USA.

Vintage Chevrolet Club of America
A nonprofit organization dedicated to the restoration and preservation of Chevrolets from 1911 to 1980.

Nash Car Club of America
A worldwide club, nearly 1700 strong. Ownership of a Nash is not a prerequisite for joining: only an interest is necessary to become a member.

The Model T Ford Club International
Provides car meets, social functions, and a newsletter for items of interest to Model T owners.

Vintage Sports Car Club of America
We exist "to encourage the acquisition, preservation, restoration, and operation of vintage sports cars"

Vintage Sports Car Club of Victoria (Australia)
For Vintage Sports Car enthusiasts

Royal Veteran Car Club of Belgium
For eligible owners of pre 1939 cars.

Vintage Car Club of Canada
Assists in the acquisition, restoration, preservation, salvage and maintenance of and to promote interest in motor vehicles of ancient age (25 years old or older), their accessories, historic lore and associated items.

(France) Le Club des Anciennes Automobiles Varoises
accueille les amoureux de l'automobile ancienne et de collection du Var, ou d'ailleurs, l'essentiel étant d'avoir en commun la passion des véhicules anciens.

Vintage and Classic Car Club of India
All owners of Vintage & Classic cars are eligible to become members. The Club helps members in restoration of their vehicles and in sourcing spares. Today the VCCCI has 158 members.

Vintage Car Club of New Zealand
The largest motoring club in New Zealand with over 7,900 members and 13,000 vintage, veteran and classic cars and motorcycles listed on the club's database

Vintage Sports-Car Club (UK and World)
The VSCC is primarily concerned with the preservation and competition of sport-cars built pre-1931 and selected Post Vintage Thoroughbred sports-cars (PVT’s) built prior to 1941. Organises more than 30 competitive events every year from racing to rallying, hill climbs and trials. The Club currently has 7,500 members worldwide.

Vintage Automobile Web-sites and Web-pages

My Life and Work by Henry Ford
Autobiography of Henry Ford

Elgin Motor Car Page A page for Antique Car and Historical Auto Buffs about the 1916-1926 Elgin Motorcars

1929 Hybrid gas/electric car
The Hybrid Gas-Electric Car of 1929

1929 Ford Car Models
Pictures and Advertisements for 1929 Ford Automobiles

World Motor-car Market 1927
Explores the Dominant Position of U.S. Car Manufacturers in the World Market of 1927

Wooden Road Paved - 1926
Paved Road replaces Plank Road on Arizona Highway in 1926

Indianapolis 500 - 1930
Requirements to Enter a Car in the 1930 Indianapolis 500 Race

 

Vintage Car Show

Flash back to those golden oldie autos of yesteryear.