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America on the Move
Collection Exhibition Themes
Transportation in America before 1876 Community Dreams: Santa Cruz, California, 1876 Delivering the Goods: Watsonville, California, 1895 A Streetcar City: Washington, D.C., 1900 City and Suburb: Chicago and Park Forest, Illinois, 1950s Suburban Strip: Sandy Boulevard, Portland, Oregon, 1949 On the School Bus: Martinsburg, Indiana, 1939 Family Camping: York Beach, Maine, 1930s Roadside Communities: Ring's Rest, Muirkirk, Maryland, 1930s The People's Highway: Route 66, 1930s-1940s Lives on the Railroad: Salisbury, North Carolina, 1927 Americans Adopt the Auto Crossing the Country: Somewhere in Wyoming, 1903 The Connected City: New York, New York, 1920s People on the Move Transforming the Waterfront: San Francisco and Oakland, California, 1960-1970 Going Global: Los Angeles Introduction Grand Plan Stop the Bulldozers! A New World for America's Auto Culture The Interstate Economy See the U.S.A. Crawl and Sprawl Safety
16: On the Interstate:  I-10, 1956–1990

A New World for America’s Auto Culture

During the late 1960s and 1970s, many Americans reconsidered their relationship with the car. Widespread concern about the environment led Congress to regulate automobile pollution. Gas shortages led to a congressional mandate that cars get more miles per gallon. Public pressure diverted a portion of highway funds into mass transit. Cars had been growing bigger. But for many purchasers, small was suddenly beautiful. Foreign automakers who manufactured smaller cars began making inroads into the American market.

Air Pollution

Air pollution became a major environmental and health issue in the 1960s, and automobile emissions were a major contributor to the problem. First California and then federal regulators set emission standards to limit pollution from cars. Though car manufacturers fought the regulations, by the 1990s new cars incorporated a host of new technologies that drastically reduced emissions. These included fuel injection, computerized engine-management systems, and catalytic converters.

Gas Crisis

To keep up with demand for gasoline, America began to import large amounts of foreign oil in the 1950s. In 1973, in an effort to raise prices and in response to American foreign policy in the Middle East, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries placed an embargo on oil going to the United States. Americans began to worry about where their fuel would come from. Congress called for more fuel-efficient cars, reduced speed limits to 55 miles per hour, encouraged car pools and mass transit, and pushed legislation to establish a pipeline to Alaskan oil fields. A lack of low-cost fuel threatened America's automobility.
Cars lined up to buy gas, Portland, Oregon, late 1973
Cars lined up to buy gas, Portland, Oregon, late 1973
Fuel shortages resulted in long waits at gas pumps. To reduce lines, some states limited refueling to alternate days—cars with even-numbered license plates could gas up only on even-numbered days.

Foreign Cars in America

America’s automakers were known for their big roomy cars, but by the mid-1970s, many Americans wanted a small car. Women were entering the job market in record numbers, and many families bought a small second car. An economy car made sense in a time of recession, high gas prices, and gas shortages. By 1980, most small cars purchased in the United States were foreign imports, with Japan dominating that market. Nearly two million Japanese automobiles were sold in the America in that year, about 20 percent of all cars sold.

Honda Civic advertisement, 1976
Honda Civic, 1974
Honda Civic, 1974

The Civic, with its low-pollution engine and high miles per gallon, was one of the first popular Japanese imports.

left: Honda Civic advertisement, 1976

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