The creation of the American automobile.
Goldstone (Birdmen: The Wright Brothers, Glenn Curtiss, and the Battle to Control the Skies, 2014, etc.) offers a wonderful, story-filled saga of the early days of the auto age. Against the background of late-17th-century attempts to use controlled explosions as a power source and the eventual rise of German and French carmakers, the author traces the development of American car manufacturing through the lives and work of a colorful cast of entrepreneurs and innovators, most notably Henry Ford (1863-1947), a farmer’s son whose Model T would make him America’s richest man, and George Selden (1846-1922), a judge’s son whose patent for an automobile he never built spawned an industry. Ford dominates the narrative: at once charismatic and enigmatic, he was a marketing genius—the Steve Jobs of his time—who, contrary to legend, did not invent the automobile or mass production but made his fortune by selling the inventions of others. He converted “ideas to cash,” which, writes Goldstone, is the definition of innovation. In the process, Ford betrayed associates, borrowed ideas, and notoriously took credit for the work of others. He would clash in courtroom encounters with the visionary Selden, the first American to apply the nascent technology of internal combustion to powering a “road carriage.” Lacking funds to build such a vehicle, Selden patented his idea and subsequently collected licensing fees from makers of motorcars. While aspects of Goldstone’s book will be familiar to auto buffs, the story is so compelling and well-crafted that most readers will be swept up in his vivid re-creation of a bygone era. The book abounds with detailed accounts of races, auto shows, and heroic cross-country journeys and explains in plain English the advances in automotive engineering that transformed early vehicles from playthings of the wealthy to functional, low-cost cars for the masses.
“Horse Is Doomed,” read one headline in 1895. This highly readable popular history tells why.