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The Automobile as a Civilizer.

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

The Automobile as a Civilizer.

John North Willys
The New York Times
June 6, 1909

BY J. N. WILLYS,
President Overland Automobile Co.

There is probably nothing in the industrial world of this country that has surpassed in interest the wonderful growth of the automobile industry.  From seventeen makers of motor cars in 1898 to approximately 300 in 1909, and the combined capitalization in 1898 of $1,000,000 to nearly $200,000,000 in 1909, is in brief, the history of this great industrial achievement.  Ten years ago there were approximately 1,000 persons employed in the manufacture of motor cars, against 200,000 at the present time.  The automobile industry has grown in ten years from nothing to a commanding place with an enormous annual output, a vast investment of capital, a huge salary payroll, and has pulled up with it a number of minor industries concerned in the manufacture of accessories, of which allied interest the manufacture of automobiles has more probably than any other single industry.

The question of who invented the gasoline motor and first thought of applying that principle to a self-propelling vehicle is of little relative importance.  The fact is that it was in Europe that the automobile was developed into something with commercial possibilities, and it is there that the painstaking and laborious experiments that were necessary were carried on.

With the American tendency to specialize, and the habit of the American consumer to demand everything that is new, and to seize, once that stage is passed, upon everything that is useful and time saving, it was inevitable that the motor car industry here should almost from the start assume certain features positively startling to the originators of the industry abroad.  It is true that for once America was caught napping-although we Americans dislike to recognize the fact-in the beginning of an industrial revolution.

That is the fact which explains America's delay in getting a comprehensive grasp of the situation.  In Europe and in America were men who saw what was coming and who were working at the problems involved.  Too much credit can never be given to such men as the pioneers Duryea, Haynes, and Selden.  But something more than that was needed.  Small bodies of enthusiasts had to work at the problem from every angle.  It was not work for one man, and the experiments involved a use of money and a use of time by a large number of individuals, working separately, but along the same lines, with practically no tangible results to cheer them along from time to time.

There the American temperament enters into the situation.  Americans, collectively, can work out definite problems with a thoroughness and a speed that can be approached by no competing nation.

The above mentioned pioneers can be likened to men like Fulton, Edison, and Bell, whose minds in reduced facsimile, and everywhere to be seen through the American industry, leaping like lightning to conclusions they know are there to be reached, bridging chasms of the unknown with brilliant theory that must be proved by the event.

Thus, after the first results had been accomplished, hundreds of brilliant Americans began to concentrate their thoughts and their work on the definite problems that separated them from the ultimate goal of success from perfection.  These men have built up the industry in America, have put it in a class with the shoe, cotton, woolen, and steel industries.  THey have worked out superb selling organizations, developed the stock car race, and made the automobile a factor of National life.  Some have built the small cheap car for the masses, while others are producing the medium and higher priced machine for the wealthier classes.  Through years of discouragement and effort they have worked out the problem, until to-day they have the perfected car, or one as near perfect as can possibly be made.  The American automobile, as a rule, has become standardized, and it probably can never be bettered, except in minor details of finish and refinement of small parts.

So the history of the American automobile industry has been largely one of development.  It has been a function of the builders to broaden the usefulness of the car, to increase its field and scope, and to bring it into touch with every phase of national life.  The American automobile industry is now firmly established and has passed through its period of infantile diseases and is now ready to take its proper place in the world and lead the way as an American industry should.

The ingenuity of the American motor car builder has been so thoroughly demonstrated upon the automobile world that it is the case to-day of the foreign maker closely watching the development of the American automobile industry, instead of, as a few years ago, the American maker watching the foreign field for new ideas.



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