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NMAH, Transportation Collections


This object appears in the following sections:

Making Sense of "Failed" Car Technology — Experiments in a "mature" industry

“The Big, Beautiful Kaiser Traveler”

“Your eyes are windows...”

“Only Nash can build this value!”
Currently on display
Not a part of the official Smithsonian Collection
At the end of the 1940s, as this 1949 Nash Airflyte ad shows, companies began to advertise the qualities that began to be associated with postwar cars: Nash promoted the Airflyte as low slung, with a curved windshield, and a smooth ride.
Physical Description
Date Made:

During World War II, American auto manufacturers stopped making cars and converted their assembly lines and factories over to war production. The supply of new automobiles dried up. After the war, reverting to peacetime production took a while: American factories produced fewer cars in 1945 (dealers sold just under 70,000 cars) than they had in 1909, before the advent of mass production. Pent-up demand and short supply caused consumers to buy any and all varieties of automobile-even the offering from the Kaiser-Frazer Company, which was a new entry into the automobile market at war's end. In the fluid years after the war, independent car makers like Nash and Studebaker grabbed a bigger market share than they had before the war. But as output soared-in 1950, car companies sold six million cars-competition heated up.

Late 1940s and early 1950s automobile advertising reflects that competition. As more and more cars were sold in the late 1940s and early 1950s, just simply owning a car was no longer a sign of high social status. So advertisements tried to create market niches for various vehicles, and sold the postwar car as a symbol of whatever variant of the American dream took your fancy. Satirist and novelist John Keats declared, in 1957, that "Detroit believes, and operates on the theory that Americans don't buy automobiles, but instead buy dreams of sex, speed, power, and wealth." The text and imagery of car advertisements show how marketers tried to make automobiles a symbol of the owner's personality and psyche.

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