Life in the Roaring Twenties

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In what ways did the automobile change American life in the 1920s?  

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The automobile gave young people in America a level of freedom which they'd previously never dreamed of having. All of a sudden, young people, especially in remote rural areas, could break free from the narrow confines of their lives and explore the wider world around them.

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The automobile gave young people in America a level of freedom which they'd previously never dreamed of having. All of a sudden, young people, especially in remote rural areas, could break free from the narrow confines of their lives and explore the wider world around them.

For the first time in their short lives, the world didn't seem quite so small. Once young people were able to obtain their own transportation, whole new vistas of opportunity opened up. They no longer had to live in the small towns in which many of them were born, and could travel all over the United States in search of work. The American economy boomed during the 1920s, and the automobile enabled millions of Americans to take advantage of growing prosperity by traveling far and wide to seek available opportunities.

The way in which automobiles were manufactured also had an effect on other industries, which sought to emulate the efficient manufacturing processes used in car factories such as the Ford plant in Dearborn, Michigan. For many, it seemed that the car industry offered a prime example of how manufacturing should develop: responding to growing consumer demand through increased automation and the development of hyper-efficient production lines.

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The invention of the automobile and its booming popularity across the United States created great economic opportunity during the 1920s.

There became, of course, a demand for an entirely new industry: manufacturing automobile parts. But, in addition to this, Americans became readily and easily mobile for the first time. Since the automobile was new and exciting, it was viewed—for many—as a pastime, not just a means of traveling from point A to point B. In fact, references to the automobile from literature of the time period—The Great Gatsby, for example—often depict young couples driving around for pleasure.

With this new mobility came the development of the American highway, and, with it, an entirely new brand of business—created for the passerby, the mobile American. Hotels and inns popped up along the highways; roadside attractions became a mainstay of the time period. And with roadside attractions came a new brand of marketing: a kind of literal advertising. Take, for example, the Benewah Milk Bottle in Spokane, WA. This dairy, built in 1935, is shaped just like a giant milk bottle. The Teapot Dome Service Station, built in 1922 in Zillah, WA, was shaped like a teapot to poke fun of the Teapot Dome Scandal from the Harding administration. Other roadside attractions boasted nothing other than being “the largest”—the largest ketchup bottle, the largest teapot, the biggest duck. This trend can be attributed to the fact that newly mobile motorists might just pass through a small town if there wasn’t something there to catch their eye.

Beyond the practical need for car part manufacturers, the recreational nature of the early automobile provided a variety of businesses with new customers and gave way to new marketing strategies. It brought new faces to small towns and connected the country in a way it had never been before.

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The development of the automobile had a tremendous impact on the United States in the 1920s. Manufacturing created many jobs in industries that were related to the automobile industry. Jobs were created in the rubber, steel, road construction, car repair, and the oil industries as well as in the automobile industry itself. As more people were working, they had more money to spend. This helped the economy grow and improved the standard of living of many Americans.

Americans became more mobile. They could travel further from home, enabling them to see other parts of the country as well as relatives who lived far from their homes. This led to the construction of more roads and highways. The Federal Highway Act was passed in 1921. As Americans traveled more, the motel industry grew. Travelers needed a place to stay while they were on the road. Eventually, people were able to move away from cities and live in suburban areas instead. Those people who lived in rural areas found it easier and quicker to travel to the cities to shop and to do other things.

Young people loved the automobile. They were able to go more places without having to be accompanied by their parents. They could go wherever they wanted to go, whenever they wanted to go. This gave young people more freedom. It also gave them more privacy when they were with friends or when they were dating.

The automobile had a tremendous impact on American life in the 1920s.

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The introduction of the automobile marked one of the great sea changes in American history. The automobile allowed for increased mobility, meaning that people could live a distance away from where they worked even if their city or town lacked public transportation. It gave rise to the suburb, to urban sprawl, and to real estate booms in California and Florida. It changed social behaviors, including courting and family vacations. It also stimulated a host of related industries, including rubber and sheet metal manufacturing, petroleum distillation, road construction, and mechanics' shops. The automobile phenomenon first affected rural communities, and then quickly spread to cities, where people began buying luxury automobiles, first available in the 1920s.

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