The history of the first generations of automobiles comes to life in popular advertising images, all clean lines and purring motors to set a collector’s heart to pounding.
Texas artist Harter (Early Farm Tractors: A History in Advertising Line Art, 2013, etc.), whose interests range from country rock music to early railroads, is clearly a close student of whatever takes his fancy. The text that opens this collection of images, just a few dozen pages in length, is wide-ranging and very nearly comprehensive, taking into account not just the technological advances from the first horseless carriages to the late 1920s, but also the players and the politics within the industry. As he notes, in 1903, an Association of Licensed Automobile Manufacturers was formed to secure a patent on the electric vehicle and to regulate the making of gasoline cars, an effort that found both Henry Ford and Ransom Olds edged out of the market. That resulted in both a long lawsuit and the decline of the electric vehicle, which took nearly a century to be revived. In much the same way, writes Harter, Chevrolet was almost axed early in its history, saved only when GM president Alfred P. Sloan “argued for saving it, as it was essential that GM offer a mass market car.” Production thus quadrupled within a few years in the mid-1920s. The bulk of the volume, though, is given over to advertising line art that Harter has chased down from various contemporary sources. This collection, comprising hundreds of mostly photoengraved images, has much value as clip art. There is a certain sameness to the drawings owing to the physical restrictions of the form, but each shows a great deal of detail and much of the dynamism of those early vehicles.
A welcome addition to the library of books for car buffs—but also to that for art students looking for models of industrial design–centered imagery.