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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
8: Americans Adopt the Auto

The Human Cost of Roads

Like railroads, trolleys, buggies, horses, and ships, automobiles kill and injure people. In 1913, more than 4,000 people died in car accidents. By the 1930s, more than 30,000 people died every year. In an effort to lower accident and death rates, safety advocates stressed the Three Es: engineering, enforcement, and education. Since most safety advocates—like most Americans—assumed that careless people were the cause of wrecks, early safety efforts focused on educating drivers and pedestrians, rather than designing and producing safer automobiles and highways.

Postcard, 1908
Postcard, 1908
Oil company promotional postcard, 1912
Oil company promotional postcard, 1912
Images of wrecks were used in advertising and safety campaigns and sometimes became a source of humor. Cars did not have turn signals, seatbelts, or many of the other safety features we now take for granted. Still, accidents were often seen as the fault of reckless drivers and witless pedestrians, rather than problems with automobile or highway design.
"Beware Little Children" sheetmusic, 1925

“When you’re playing in the street don’t forget the dangers near
With the noise of scrambling feet you can’t hear the cars appear
And soon the little friend you loved lies in pain
You may never see him again .”

'Beware Little Children' sheetmusic, 1925
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