Building and Fixing Cars
Building and Selling Cars
Today a few very large companies produce most of the cars in the United States. In the early 1900s there were over 100 companies building gasoline, steam, and electric automobiles, often in very small quantities. The number of automakers peaked in the 1910s. By the 1930s, many small manufacturers had folded, unable to compete with low production costs at Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler.
Early cars required frequent maintenance and repairs. Many machinists, blacksmiths, bicycle mechanics, and others started auto repair shops. New-car dealers and gasoline stations also offered repairs, and most cities had garages that stored, cleaned, fueled, and serviced automobiles.
Even though cars became more reliable, the auto repair business remained a necessity. By the 1920s there were more than 60,000 service shops. In the 1930s, oil companies also provided repairs. They used brand identity and the promise of uniform quality to attract customers.
Every driver learned to change and repair tires, which blew out frequently. Many owners also performed minor repairs for pleasure, convenience, and savings. Some got their skills from dealing with farm machinery. Others learned from repair manuals. The simplicity of the Ford Model T especially endeared it to millions of owners, many of whom claimed to fix their cars with twine, baling wire, or clothespins. Usually a screwdriver, wrench, hammer, and pliers were all the tools they needed.
Inventing a Better Car
Many people thought that cars, as the dealer sold them, were inefficient or lacked much-needed accessories. Model T owners sent the Ford Motor Company ideas for improvements, and hundreds of mail-order gadgets and attachments allowed owners to upgrade the Model T or make it work better. Inventors fashioned devices that claimed to make cars safer, more fuel-efficient, or easier to use. Some of these devices later became standard features on cars. Others remained popular add-on items, and still others failed to catch on.
Homemade turn signal, 1929
Bell Gasoline Saver, about 1920
Sinko Windshield Heater, about 1930