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Atlantic Automobilism

Atlantic Automobilism: Emergence and Persistence of the Car, 1895-1940

Gijs Mom
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 768
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  • Book Info
    Atlantic Automobilism
    Book Description:

    Our continued use of the combustion engine car in the 21st century, despite many rational arguments against it, makes it more and more difficult to imagine that transport has a sustainable future. Offering a sweeping transatlantic perspective, this book explains the current obsession with automobiles by delving deep into the motives of early car users. It provides a synthesis of our knowledge about the emergence and persistence of the car, using a broad range of material including novels, poems, films, and songs to unearth the desires that shaped our present "car society." Combining social, psychological, and structural explanations, the author concludes that the ability of cars to convey transcendental experience, especially for men, explains our attachment to the vehicle.

    eISBN: 978-1-78238-378-9
    Subjects: History, Transportation Studies, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-ix)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. x-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. INTRODUCTION. Explaining the Car: Prolegomena for a History of North-Atlantic Automobilism
    (pp. 1-56)

    Linguistic research from 2002 among Dutch parents unearthed that “auto” was among the first fifty words their children produced, with the additional reassuring note that more parents reported “mama” and “papa” (98 percent) than “auto” (76 percent).² This book tries to answer the most direct question one can ask about car culture: Why? Why the car (and not, say, the bicycle)? Why in the North-Atlantic realm, and not elsewhere initially?

    Answering these ‘why’ questions was the most complex project I have ever undertaken.³ Following common practice in general historiography, I first searched for possible answers in the existing car canon...

  6. Part I. Emergence (1895–1918)

    • CHAPTER 1 Racing, Touring, Tinkering: Constructing the Adventure Machine (1895–1914/1917)
      (pp. 59-132)

      In 1902 Otto Julius Bierbaum, an established German writer known to belong to theMünchener Jugendstilmovement, undertook a journey to Italy in a car borrowed from the Adler company. Popular among contemporaries and historians of mobility alike, and followed, during the remainder of his literary career, by several shorter pieces celebrating the delights of automobile travel, hisempfindsame Reise(sentimental journey) was conceived in the ‘old-fashioned’ form of letters to friends, a 250-page-long attack on the train, and a eulogy to the ‘freedom of movement’ the automobile afforded instead. The book offered an overt morality: the joy of the...

    • CHAPTER 2 How it Feels to be Run Over: The Grammar of Early Automobile Adventure
      (pp. 133-226)

      In May 1912 the professional car thief Jules Bonnot and an accomplice, hiding in a house in the Parisian suburb Choisy le Roi, were dynamited by the police while thirty thousand Parisians looked on, together with an army of reporters and several “moving-picture machines.” Bonnot, a mechanic who had worked in several car factories (and had been a chauffeur for Arthur Conan Doyle), was the first in France to use a car for a robbery. He preferred luxurious Delaunay-Bellevilles and De Dion-Boutons. Upon learning about the shootout the New York Times had cabled its Parisian correspondent to hire no less...

    • CHAPTER 3 Driving on Aggression: The First World War and the Systems Approach to the Car
      (pp. 227-282)

      When, on the night of 31 August 1914, the French avant-garde poet Guillaume Apollinaire entered Paris in a “little car” (that is, of course, if we may assume that the fiction of the poem corresponds with a similar event in Paris) he entered the war. The epithet “little” is significant here: the “new epoch” was one of a new type of car, ready for a new gamut of users. Like the car manufacturers, the poet also experimented with his production methods, as the middle lines of the poem are shaped in the form of a car (seats, chassis, wheels; there...

  7. Part II. Persistence (1918–1940)

    • CHAPTER 4 “Why Apologize for Pleasure?” Consuming the Car in Boom and Bust
      (pp. 285-372)

      In December 1927The American Magazinepublished a contribution written by department store truck driver Archie Chadbourne, accompanied by a picture of his wife and two daughters, without mentioning the area he was living, as if to emphasize the typicality of their case. Buying their clothes at the Salvation Army store, they belonged to the “respectable poor,” he wrote, but their shortlist of expenditures also included “auto upkeep.” That sum represented 4 percent of his monthly income of a hundred dollars, not much less than home economists calculated for the American average. Chadbourne spent this amount on a sixty-dollar second-hand...

    • CHAPTER 5 Translation and Transition: Readjusting the Technology and Culture of Middle-Class Family Adventures
      (pp. 373-424)

      In chapter 4 it is implicitly assumed, just like in classic diffusion studies, that during the spread of the car through the North-Atlantic realm the artifact itself did not change, nor did the people who were supposed to purchase it. In reality, it is exactly the constant adjustment to the perceived ‘needs’ of the buyers, and, on their turn, their adjustment to the properties of the artifact, that triggers and drives the diffusion process when seen from an evolutionary perspective. This is all the more true in a phase, under consideration here, in which the car evolved into a commodity...

    • CHAPTER 6 Redefining Adventure: Domesticated Violence and the Coldness of Distance
      (pp. 425-564)

      This chapter investigates the motives and motifs behind the new automotive middle-class family adventure as presented in the previous two chapters. This ‘tamed adventure’ in the form of a ‘domesticated hedonism’ will be analyzed on the basis of a mix of vernacular travel accounts, belletristic literature, and elements of popular culture such as film and songs. The mix is the result of the insight that in this Interbellum period, which is at the same time an intermediate period between ‘elite’ and ‘folk’ automobilism, literature does not express anymore to the full the ever more multifaceted culture of those who decided...

    • CHAPTER 7 Swarms Into Flows: The Contested Emergence of the Automobile System
      (pp. 565-634)

      “In Southern New Jersey you may see a farm,” the contribution on “Business” in Harold Stearn’sCivilization in the United States(1922) observed,

      now prosperously devoted to berry and fruit crops, on which, still in good repair, are the cedar rail fences built by a farmer whose contacts with business were six or eight trips per year over a sand road to Trenton with surplus food to exchange for some new tools, tea, coffee, and store luxuries. That old sand road has become a cement pavement—a motor highway. Each morning a New York baking corporation’s motor stops at the...

  8. CONCLUSION. Transcendence and the Automotive Production of Mobility
    (pp. 635-659)

    In April 1940, more than half a year after the outbreak of the Second World War, the trains in Germany were so overfilled with “pleasure travelers” that drafted workers and soldiers coming back from the front for some days off had to stay back at the platforms. A year later the situation had not changed. Similar scenes are known from the Netherlands: the touring club ANWB reported in 1941 that it had sold double the number of camping permits as the year before and the number of travel inquiries from members had increased from 50,000 to 80,000, testifying to the...

  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 660-736)
  10. Index
    (pp. 737-752)