As America inches ever closer to replacing the gasoline-powered vehicle with electric vehicles (EVs), it’s good to pause and consider how the gas-run vehicle helped pull our country out of the Great Depression. Imagine what it was like for Americans to experience the new sense of freedom associated with getting behind the wheel and going wherever you like in peace and quiet. Think too of the sense of prosperity for new car owners. The car industry boom helped us realize that we were not beaten, that we would make our way into the future, quite literally in our cars.
As mass-produced automobiles began rolling off the assembly line, America, of necessity became the world’s first, open-road society. All of this happened in the early 20th century. It began with Ransom Olds with the Curved Dash Olds production line of 1901, continuing with Henry Ford in 1908 with his Model T. The idea of an owning a personal vehicle took time to catch on. By the 1930s, however, car ownership had become a staple of the middle class. Having a car meant we could go where we wanted, when we wanted.
The Gas-Powered Car and the Depression
Americans began to see how neat it would be to own a private car or a truck. Even though it was the Depression, they saved and skimped to buy new and used automobiles and trucks. In September of 1935, right in the thick of the Depression, the St. Louis Federal Reserve documented the astonishing, burgeoning growth of the automobile industry:
“During the first 6 months of 1935, companies and individuals purchased from motor-vehicle dealers 1,461,940 new passenger cars and 254,063 trucks, paying for these vehicles a sum estimated at approximately $1,460,000,000. The first half year registrations were 44 percent greater in 1935 than during the corresponding period of last year, while the increase over the same 6 months of 1933 was 121 percent.”
But it wasn’t just the cars that dragged America out of the depths of the prolonged economic disaster that was the Great Depression. The emergence of the automobile was the catalyst for the creation of untold numbers of critically important industries. These industries, among them stores where car owners can buy parts; the dealerships that sell the cars, repair shops that fix them, and the production of the energy that runs them, provide employment to millions of Americans, offering them a chance at financial stability, and personal wealth.