A chronicle of the frantic, ultracompetitive, and heroic early days of automobile manufacturing.
The turn of the 20th century witnessed some of the most profound technological advances in human history. Chief among them was the development of the automobile as a mass-produced consumer product. Beginning with the first commercial enterprise founded by brothers Charles and J. Frank Duryea in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1893, Americans quickly grew infatuated, skeptical, and outright hostile to this novel contraption. In his buoyant and charming narrative, Miller (Drowned: A Different Kind of Zombie Tale, 2015, etc.) sets the foundation for the American century by charting the intense competition, rivalries, successes, and failures of the early automotive industry. The author profiles many of the titans and personalities of the era such as Henry Ford, Oldsmobile founder Ransom Olds and his famed Curved Dash, General Motors creator William C. Durant, driver Barney Oldfield, and others. Aside from the industrial upheaval caused by auto manufacturing, Miller also highlights the drastic social changes it caused. Catering to young adventurers and the wealthy elite, mostly from urban centers, the automobile inspired enthusiast groups like the League of American Wheelmen all across the country. Not all reactions were positive. Rural communities, dependent on horses, viewed the new mode of transportation as a direct affront to their way of life and threatened to sabotage cross-country racers passing through their towns. From cottage industry to mass-production assembly lines, the development of the automobile represents a quintessentially American story of industrial capitalism and the fiercely driven personalities that carved their fortunes and legacies out of seemingly nothing. Capturing the energy and ambition of a time when optimism in the American spirit was unparalleled, Miller also shows that despite the car’s profound effect on American culture, it was not the modern panacea some predicted.
A must for car lovers and plenty of interesting material to keep other curious readers flipping pages.