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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 People on the Move Crossing the Country: Somewhere in Wyoming, 1903 The Connected City: New York, New York, 1920s Lives on the Railroad: Salisbury, North Carolina, 1927 Family Camping: York Beach, Maine, 1930s The People's Highway: Route 66, 1930s-1940s Roadside Communities: Ring's Rest, Muirkirk, Maryland, 1930s On the School Bus: Martinsburg, Indiana, 1939 Suburban Strip: Sandy Boulevard, Portland, Oregon, 1949 City and Suburb: Chicago and Park Forest, Illinois, 1950s On the Interstate: I-10, 1956-1990 Transforming the Waterfront: San Francisco and Oakland, California, 1960-1970 Going Global: Los Angeles Introduction Licensing Cars and Drivers Better Roads The Human Cost of Roads Fill 'er Up! Building and Selling Cars Fixing Cars Technological Choices Creating a Nation of Drivers
Americans Adopt the Auto

Explore the way the automobile went from being a plaything of the rich to a major factor in the American transportation landscape. In this exhibit section full of objects, you can see toy cars, early license plates, engines, road markers, car-part inventions, mechanics’ tools, and gas pumps. See a 1926 Model T on its side in a 1923 “Turn-Auto,” used to get at the bottom of the car for repairs

View from the exhibition
View from the exhibition

Cars Everywhere?

For automobiles to become a permanent fixture on the American landscape—rather than simply a toy for the rich—people needed to be convinced that they were reliable, useful, appropriate, and even necessary. In the early years of motoring, not all Americans were convinced that the new “devil wagons” were here to stay. But as people came to value the convenience of the car, and as they adapted it to their own needs, cars became a significant part of everyday life.

To cope with the changes that “automobility” brought, the nation developed an elaborate system of law, commerce, and custom. Americans wrote new laws, rebuilt roads, and developed new production techniques. A slew of businesses—gas stations, tire shops, garages—sprang up to supply drivers’ needs. By 1930, 23 million cars were on the road, and more than half of American families owned a car.

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