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Issue 2: Fall 2004: The Automotive Industry
Updated: March 2014

Automotive History

The history of the automobile begins with the technological breakthroughs that occurred in Europe during the early 1800's and continues a century later with the pioneering efforts of American manufactures to begin mass-producing cars. The world economic downturn leading up to World War II led to consolidation in the fragmented automobile manufacturing market, while in the Postwar period, renewed economic growth, television advertising, and a expanding road system accelerated sales for automobile producers in many industrialized countries. Design, service, and speed became trademarks of the successful companies, as evidence by the every growing range of car models and the increasing popularity of NASCAR racing in the United States.

However, as the industry matured, manufacturers had to reach an accommodation with labor unions, increasing government controls, and consumer expectations for annual changes in product design. Trade conflicts led to Voluntary Export Restraints (VERs) and new questions about the value of globalization. The automobile, while providing greater personal freedom and economic growth, also served as the basis for questioning the value of technological progress. Scholars considered the effects of urban sprawl (and the advantages of urban planning), and the tradeoffs between economic growth, pollution, and conservation. Subsequent industry mergers, the ongoing threat of oil crises, and environmental degradation continues to affect the automobile industry today.

Advertisement for Ford cabriolet
Advertisement for Ford cabriolet from the
Wittemann Collection
(Library of Congress)
Reproduction number: LC-USZC4-2697

Table of Contents

Automotive History
Global Automobile Industry
    North American Market
    European & Russian Market
    East Asian Market
Automobile Manufacturing
Company Research
Industry News and Analysis
Electronic Resources

The list of resources below provide access to the rich and varied literature on automobile manufacturing and marketing history. These titles though are only illustrative of the popular and scholarly literature that has built up over the past two centuries around the industry.

Industry Histories          Company Histories          Retail Trade, history          Internet Resources        
LC Subject Headings

LC Subject Headings

Additional works relating to automotive history in the Library of Congress may be identified by searching the Online Catalog under appropriate Library of Congress subject headings. Selecting the subject headings below will link you directly to the Catalog and automatically execute a search for the authorized subject selected and the corresponding subdivision.

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Industry Histories

Bak, Richard. Henry and Edsel : The Creation of the Ford Empire. Hoboken, N.J. : Wiley, 2003.
LC Call Number: HD9710.U52 F655 2003
LC Catalog Record: 2003004786
Table of Contents
Publisher Description
Contributor biographical information

The ongoing conflict between these two men provide the backdrop for explaining the changes in management and productivity at Ford.

Batchelor, Ray. Henry Ford, Mass Production, Modernism, and Design. Manchester : Manchester University Press, 1994.
LC Call Number: HD9710.U52 F662 1994
LC Catalog Record: 94022346

Compares the perceived value of mass production and its impact on industry with the realities of the workplace.

Brown, Lester Russell. The Future of the Automobile in an Oil-Short World. Washington: Worldwatch Institute, 1979
LC Call Number: TL154 .B73
LC Catalog Record: 79067316

One in a series of works written in the aftermath of the energy crisis appealing for changes in automobile standards and production.

Coffey, Frank and Joseph Layden. America on Wheels : The First 100 Years : 1896-1996.
Los Angeles : General Pub. Group, 1998
LC Call Number: TL23 .C595 1998
LC Catalog Record: 98224898

The companion volume to the PBS documentary highlighting the contributions by past and present innovators in the industry. Heavily illustrated with color and black-and-white photographs

Davis, Donald Finlay. Conspicuous Production : Automobiles and Elites in Detroit, 1899-1933. Philadelphia : Temple University Press, 1988.
LC Call Number: HD9710.U53 D473 1988
LC Catalog Record: 87026745

Looks at the interaction, and subsequent tensions, between the dominant industry and the social elite of Detroit.

Dregni, Eric & Karl Hagstrom Miller. Ads that Put America on Wheels. Osceola, WI : Motorbooks International, 1996.
LC Call Number: HF6161.A9 D74 1996
LC Catalog Record: 96024918

Chronicles the advertising and promotion campaigns undertaken to mass market cars in the American market.

Eckermann, Erik. World History of the Automobile. Warrendale, PA, Society of Automotive Engineers, 2001.
LC Call Number: TL15 .E282413 2001
LC Catalog Record: 2001034148

Measures the technological and business developments in Europe, especially in Germany, of automobile production thru the war years and later.

Georgano, G.N. & Thorkil Ry Andersen, editors. The New Encyclopedia of Motorcars, 1885 to the Present. New York: Dutton, 1982.
LC Call Number: TL15 .N37 1982
LC Catalog Record: 81071857

A core source providing a comprehensive compilation of automobile information.

Gudis, Catherine. Buyways : Billboards, Automobiles, and the American Landscape. New York : Routledge, 2004.
LC Call Number: HF5843 .G84 2004
LC Catalog Record: 2003017457
Table of Contents

A cultural history that tells the struggle between billboard advertisers and the automotive industry on the one hand, and environmentalists on the other, for the American vision.

Kirsch David A. Electric Vehicle and the Burden of History. New Brunswick, N.J. : Rutgers University Press, 2000.
LC Call Number: TL220 .K57 2000
LC Catalog Record: 99056542

Details the history of why manufacturers and the public did not accept the electric vehicle, and reaches a pessimistic conclusion about the technology's future.

Lasch, Christopher. The True and Only Heaven : Progress and Its Critics. New York : Norton, 1991.
LC Call Number: E169.1 .L376 1991
LC Catalog Record: 90033714

Lasch questions the desirability and inevitability of progress using the automobile as a metaphor for some of the major societal changes that took place in the last half of the 20th century.

May, George S. Editor. The Automobile Industry, 1896-1920. New York : Facts on File, 1990.
LC Call Number: HD9710.U52 A787 1990
LC Catalog Record: 89011672

A standard reference source for the history of Automobile production.

May, George S. Editor. The Automobile Industry, 1920-1980. New York : Facts on File, 1989.
LC Call Number: HD9710.U52 A79 1989
LC Catalog Record: 89011671

A standard reference source for the history of Automobile production.

Lichtenstein, Nelson and Stephen Meyer. Editors. On the Line : Essays in the History of Auto Work. Urbana : University of Illinois Press, 1989.
LC Call Number: HD6515.A8 O5 1989
LC Catalog Record: 88002372

Details labor relations in the American automobile industry thru a series of case studies.

Womack, James P. The Machine that Changed the World : Based on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology 5-million Dollar 5-year Study on the Future of the Automobile. New York : Rawson Associates, 1990.
LC Call Number: HD9710.A2 W65 1990
LC Catalog Record: 89063284

In identifying production factors in the global automobile manufacturing industry, the authors provide insight into what worked, and didn't work, for various automobile manufacturers.

Trade Catalogues and the American Home 1850-1950
Subscription database accessible to onsite patrons or other subscribers.

"The automotive industry in the United States was established in the late 1890s and, thanks to a wide customer base and the utilisation of mass production techniques, quickly became the largest in the world. Automotive catalogues and leaflets included in this resource chart the rise of this trade, and feature well-known brands such as Buick, Mercedes-Benz, Chrysler, Chevrolet, Cadillac and Ford. Items from brands such as Studebaker show the transition from the manufacture of carriages to motorised automobiles." – Publisher's description

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Company Histories

Banham, Russ. The Ford century : Ford Motor Company and the Innovations that shaped the World. New York : Artisan, 2002.
LC Call Number: HD9710.U54 F5338 2002
LC Catalog Record: 2002074607

Chronicles the artistic and industrial imprint Henry Ford left on his company.

Beatty, Michael. Studebaker : Less than They Promised. South Bend, Ind. : And Books, 1984.
LC Call Number: HD9710.U54 S825 1985
LC Catalog Record: 84081548

Accounts the conflicts and indecision of the company's leadership that led to its demise.

Brinkley, Douglas. Wheels for the World : Henry Ford, His Company, and a Century of Progress, 1903-2003. New York : Viking, 2003.
LC Call Number: TL140.F6 B75 2003
LC Catalog Record: 2002033066
Table of Contents

Scholarly look at the social, political, and economic ramifications of the changes Henry Ford brought to American industry.

Epstein, Ralph Cecil. The Automobile Industry: Its Economic and Commercial Development. New York, Arno Press, 1928, 1972.
LC Call Number: HD9710.U52 E6 1972
LC Catalog Record: 72005045

An early and informative history of the growth of the automobile history and its impact on the world economy.

Farber, David R. Sloan rules : Alfred P. Sloan and the Triumph of General Motors. Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 2002.
LC Call Number: HD9710.U52 S494 2002
LC Catalog Record: 2002004967

Demonstrates the ability of one individual to forge the future of not only a company, but also an industry.

Kimes, Beverly Rae, ed. Packard : A History of the Motor Car and the Company. Princeton, N.J. : Princeton Pub., 1978.
LC Call Number: HD9710.U54 P37 1978
LC Catalog Record: 78071063

Surveys the landscape of the automobile industry and one company's inability to navigate effectively during periods of upheavals.

Langworth, Richard M. The Complete History of Chrysler Corporation, 1924-1985. New York : Beekman House, 1985.
LC Call Number: HD9710.U54 C468 1985
LC Catalog Record: 85060088

Detailed overview of the company, focusing on the various speciality divisions within Chrysler and the companies successful petition to the United States government for $1 billion dollars in loan guarantees to avoid bankruptcy.

Latham, Caroline and David Agresta. Dodge Dynasty : The Car and the Family that Rocked Detroit. San Diego : Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989.
LC Call Number: CT274.D62 L38 1989
LC Catalog Record: 88016467

Chronicles the impact of low-cost family cars on the American automobile market.

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Retail Trade: History

Ealey, Lance A. Global Automotive Retailing : A New Perspective. London: Economist Intelligence Unit, 1998.
LC Call Number: HD9710.A2 e18 1998
LC Catalog Record: 99172781
Table of Contents

Highlights recent developments in the automotive production chain throughout the world. Chapters on specific countries or regions begin with a short history of automotive retailing in that area os the world.

Genat, Robert. The American Car Dealership. Osceola, WI : MBI Pub. Co., 1999.
LC Call Number: HD9710.U52 G359 1999
LC Catalog Record: 99032654

Spotlights dealership business practices through the years, from the architectural changes in showrooms to superstores, and the increasing sophistication of marketing tactics.

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Internet Resources

Andy's World Automobile Industry External Link

Benson Ford Research Center External Link

The Benson Ford Research Center holdings include the historical records and photographs of Ford Motor Company and The Henry Ford, the Henry Austin Clark, Jr., Automotive History Collection, and other major holdings in automotive, industrial, social and cultural American history.

Automotive History. Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan - Ann Arbor. (archived) External Link

The Center for the Study of Automotive Heritage, University of Michigan - Dearborn. External Link

Dealership Competition in the U.S. Automobile Industry. External Link [PDF format: 389 KB / 13 p.]

Early Cars: Fact Sheet for Children by the Smithsonian External Link

The Evolution of the U.S. Automobile Industry and Detroit as its Capital. External Link [PDF format: 293 KB / 53 p.]

The History of the Automobile: Reading List by the Smithsonian. External Link

Highway History Bibliography External Link

Mileposts of Automobile History External Link

You can learn significant events and facts in automobile history from 1900 to 1934 by selecting a year under Mileposts on the left hand side menu.

Society of Automotive Historians, Inc. External Link

Taking the Wheel (from NYPL) External Link

This is a digitial collection of manufacturers' catalogs from the 1st decade of American automobiles

Last Updated: 02/14/2014

To view PDFs Acrobat Reader

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