The Automobile in America
BY FRANK A. MUNSEY, IN MUNSEY’S MAGAZINE.
This is a supplementary article to Mr. Munsey’s earlier paper on “The Automobile in France.” After pointing out the strong points of the American machine and showing that the number of purchasers in America far exceeds the number in France, he proceeds to make some useful suggestions on the subject of motoring laws. He believes that the horse should not be taken as the standard for legislation and advocates thorough inspection of all cars.
FACTS and figures about the beginning and progress of the automobile industry in America are so conflicting, and there is such a dearth of accurate knowledge on the subject, that I cannot show, year by year, our growth in the manufacture of automobiles. The best obtainable statistics show that our output for 1905 has been about twenty-five thousand cars of one kind and another. These figures, contrasted with those of half a dozen years ago, show the most tremendous strides of the automobile industry in America. Then but very little capital was invested in automobile factories; now over twenty millions of dollars are employed in the business. Then we had but two or three small manufactories, merely experimental shops; to-dajf we have forty or fifty • great big factories amply equipped with money and machinery and skilled workmen, and we have at the head of these factories both men of splendid executive force and those of scientific knowledge, who are bending every thought and every energy to the development of the best automobile in the world, and to its production at the least possible cost. It is in the latter respect that American ingenuity and American methods most forcefully assert themselves. This means that the American automobile wTill at no distant day dominate the markets of the world.
Until recently the automobile was
looked upon as a plaything for the very rich and a fad of the hour. But that it is beginning to be taken seriously is made clear by the fact that in New York State alone we now have registered over twenty-four thousand motor cars. Just how many there are in the whole United States I have been unable to learn, but with twenty-four thousand in one State of the Union, there must be as many as one hundred thousand now in use. The uncertain period of the automobile is past. It is no longer a theme for jokers, and rarely do we hear the derisive expression, “Get a horse ! ”
We are not only going to manufacture the best automobiles in the world, but we are already making pretty nearly, if not actually, as high-grade machines as are produced anywhere in Europe. * That the European machine has the prestige cannot be denied. It made a place for itself before we even started to manufacture automobiles, and it is difficult to overcome prestige. There is something else that works immeasurably to the advantage of the foreign car and correspondingly to our disadvantage. It is the great army of Americans who go abroad every Summer and automobile there in foreign cars. They become acustomed to them, attached to them, and bring them home. The power of habit has its grasp, in automobiling as in everything else. The fact that So-and-so and So-and-so have foreign
cars has an undoubted influence ’ on other Americans in the purchase of automobiles.
But all these influences will not be able to stand against the genuine excellence of the American car of today with its lower price. The duty on a car coming into America is forty-five per cent., and with the expense of casing for shipment, freight, and insurance, we have a total of fifty per cent., which must be added to the purchase price of a car in France. This means that one can buy an American car of the same horse-power, finish, and general excellence as a foreign car at just about half the price, or, in other words, get two American cars for 'what one foreign car would cost. With so wide a margin of difference in cost, it is not difficult to foresee a rapid diminution in the importation of automobiles as the quality of our own product becomes better known and is further improved.
Though we were the last country to take up seriously the manufacture of automobiles, we are to-day turning out;even more cars than France. Her product, however, is of greater value than our own, as the average French machine is much more expensive. Our great expansion so far has been in inexpensive automobiles. And there is a very sound reason for this type of machine. In France, as in England and Germany and Italy and Spain, there is not the vast welDto-do citizenship that we have in America. The automobile over there is largely owned by the very rich and the great leisure class — by these and by foreign visitors. Comparatively few men in business or in salaried positions indulge in the luxury of motoring. Their incomes do not warrant it. The motor cycle
and the bicycle are the pleasure machines of the people.
In America we have half a million men who can afford to own and run an automobile, and half a million automobiles we shall have in use here within the next ten years. Our manufacturers, realizing the difference in conditions between this country and the countries of Europe—the difference in the roads, and in the wealth and temperament of the peoples—are very wisely making automobiles that are particularly suited to America. Over eighty per cent of them, I should fancy, are so simplified that they are independent of the mechanician. They are chauffeurless machines, machines for the half million citizens, many of whom could not afford to maintain an automdbile plus the additional expense of a mechanician.
The salary paid to a chauffeur in America has an important bearing on this point. Chauffeurs’ wages here are anywhere from seventy-five to one hundred and fifty dollars , a month, whereas abroad the average price is about forty dollars a month. Most men, however, prefer driving their own automobiles, whether they have a chauffeur or not. It is in the running of a car, the handling of it, the feeling of command over it, and its obedience to one’s will, that the keenest enjoyment of automobiling is found. Delightful as it is to be driven with the speed of the toboggan in a good car over a fine, smooth road, it is far more delightful to be at the wheel.
In hilly or mountainous sections, where “thank-vou-ma'ams” are thrown across the road every few rods, ours are the only cars in which automc/biling is practicable. I use the word “thank-you-ma’ams” for
the want of a better expression—I mean elevations like a log half sunk into the roadbed and covered over with earth. This construction in our rude and imperfect road building is, I believe, intended to keep the road from washing away in heavy rainstorms. It doubtless serves the purpose, but for the automobile, and particularly the low-hanging automobile of Europe, it means serious trouble, if not actual destruction.
In a run with a friend from Newburgh to New York last Summer, I had a striking example of the adaptability of our light domestic cars to rough highways. To my very great surprise we covered the distance, about sixty-five miles, in slightly less time than I had ever taken in going over it in high-priced, highpower cars. I was thoroughly familiar with the road, as I have automofbiled over it many times and in a variety of cars, including a sixty-horse Mercedes, which I owned in 1903, and which I found to be wholly unpractical and unsatisfactory for use on our roads.
The secret of my friend’s good record was that he kept his car running all the while at pretty nearly full speed. He did not stop for rough places. It was not necessary. The car was made for just such roads, and was at home on them. On the other hand, with high-priced, high-power cars, one always favors them by going slowly and carefully over rocks and hubbies and hummocks, and through mud and sand. On clean, level stretches the big calcan fly, but with the restrictions of the law and the scarcity of good stretches of road, it cannot make up what the little car gains on it on the great preponderance of bad stretches.
Another important advantage with the small car, in addition to the fact that it actually needs no chauffeur, is that in wear and tear, and in the use of gasoline and oils, the expense is minimized. It is probably less than one-half that of a forty-horse automobile. And in speaking of small cars, 1 am not going back to the period of seven and ten and twelve horse-power cars. I mean cars of from eighteen to twenty-five horse-power. Nearly three years ago I made the statement in Munsey’s Magazine that a twenty-five horsepower automobile was the ideal mamachine for general touring. At that time I did not know so much about automobiling as I do now, but the experience I had had convinced me that this was a practical, economical and yet sufficiently powerful car for any purpose.
What I said then, based on two or three years’ of experience and a good deal of theory, I say now as a matter of absolute certainty. A twentyfive horse-power car is strong enough, if not over-weighted by an excessively heavy body, to climb up the side of a house. It can travel as fast as any one could reasonably wish to go, and much faster than the law allows, and it is safer, more easily handled, and more satisfactory in every sense. I have had automobiles ranging all the way from five horse-power to sixty, including two forties, and the machine that has given me most satisfaction is a light car that makes up to about twenty-five or possibly twenty-eight horse-power. It is alike a good short distance and good long distance car—a car that tackles a hill with the will and the nerve of a bulldog, and when gentleness is required is as gentle as a lamb.
In one respect the automobile is
doing more for us than it is for France. It is giving us good roads— not, of course, directly giving them to us, but it is the greatest force working for them that has ever taken shape. Every one who tastes the pleasure of automobiling at once becomes an uncompromising advocate of good roads.
France had her good roads before the advent of the automobile, and because of her good roads receives in the aggregate, through the automobile, a tremendous annual income for her people.
Much as this means to our sister republic, however, I am certain that America is being benefited even more, vastly more, through the influence of the automobile. While we are not yet drawing foreigners to our shores to spend their holidays, as France is, we are, nevertheless, marvelously increasing the worth of our enormous acreage throughout the length and breadth of the land, by the good roads we are building and those scheduled to be built.
Give us fine, broad macadam roads everywhere, and our farm lands and the suburbs of cities and villages, stretching out even to a great distance, will bound in values. Good roads eliminate distance and make neighbors of us all. So do automobiles, like railways, the telegraph and telephone, eliminate distance. Combined, they enlarge the scope of the city by a hundred miles, giving us city comforts and conveniences with the pure air and sunlight and space and freedom of the country.
The automobile has arrived. It has met the bitterest prejudices and the most deadly scoffing, and come up against stubborn and narrow laws, but in spite of these it has been developed and perfected and has triD
umphed. Already it has been absorbed into our civilization, even as the trolley, the electric light, and every other luxury that so rapidly crystallizes into a necessity.
With the recognition that the automobile has come to stay, prejudice generally is giving way to toleration and to reason. It is no longer war between the motor car and the horse. Harmony between them is the keynote of the new order of things. It is getting to be felt, too, that after all there are some pretty decent and really thoughtful, humane men among automobilists. And this feeling helps, helps very much. Such a feeling, with a better understanding of the automobile, means better and more rational laws, more elastic laws, legislation that will suit the motor car—not the kind that is based on the performance of the horse. It were well nigh as sensible to make railway laws to conform to the scope of the horse as to hold the automobile down to the hard and fast limits allowed that ancient and erratic quadruped.
As an automobilist myself, and one who is a strong advocate of motoring, both for health and pleasure, I am, nevertheless, unalterably opposed to the enactment of any laws that would work to the advantage of the automobilist and to the disadvantage of the public. The public should be considered first always, and then be fair and rational with the automobilist.
For example, if an automobile going at the rate of twenty miles • an hour can be stopped in half the distance it would require to stop a horse traveling eight miles an hour, isn’t the automobile clearly less dangerous to the public, even though moving at the greater speed, that
the horse is at the lesser f If this is so, why should the horse be accepted as the standard of measurement of the speed of the automobile in and about cities and villages ?
It were foolish to assume that the automobile by nature and tenperament and habits is a thing to endear itself to the non-automobiling public. It has such decided mannerisms, and is withal so strenuous in action, that it strikes a jarring note with the American citizen. Its impudent air of superiority as it dashes by one on the road, its insolent toot of the horn, commanding the right of way, and the blinding, stifling cloud of dust that it leaves behind it, are undeniably antagonistic to the ideas and viewpoints to which we have been accustomed. Whatever laws and regulations will tend to bring the motor car and the interests and rights of the general public into the greatest harmony will, I am sure, meet with approval ,from the manufacturers of automobiles and all true lovers of automobiling.
It is certain that the dust nuisance is öne of the very worst and most objectionable phases of motoring to all the people in the country. It is not only objectionable to nonautomobilists, but to automobilists themselves. It has often been urged that the automobile should have special roads, and should be ruled off thepublic highways. Do this, and it ceases to be anything except a high-speed pleasure machine—a sort of horizontal toboggan, and as such it would soon dwindle into a very insignificant place among the inventions that have contributed so wonderfully to our present-day civilization, our present-day scope of living and doing and enjoying.
To make the automobile subservi-
ent to existing conditions, to develop it so that danger from its use will be minimized, and that the dust nuisance will be largely done away with, is the result we must strive for and must attain. And whatever will help to bring this about should enlist the thought and the best efforts of automobile manufacturers and our lawmakers. I have done a good deal of thinking at odd times along this line, with the following result :
Why not limit the power of automobiles that have the privilege of the public roads, and in addition elevate their bodies to say twelve, fifteen, or eighteen inches from the ground ? With the machine of smaller power, danger is greatly decreased, and with the high car the dust nuisance would be very much less. It is the car of great power, with low-hanging body, that tears up the surface of the road and sends it flying in dense clouds of dust over everything and everybody.
The low-hanging car is necessary only to great speed. It does not capsize so easily at corners and on curves. But is the public interested in fast automobiling on the general highways, and should it be subjected to such inconvenience and danger ? That well-elevated cars could have ample safety with thoughtful and intelligent handling there can be no doubt.
I am inclined to predict that the time will come when the low-hanging car of to-day will be ruled off the public roads and relegated to the race track. I am inclined to predict, too, that there must sooner or later be a limit placed on the power of automobiles for use on the highways. If not, where shall we stop—at sixty,.
ninety, a hundred and twenty horsepower, ,or even more? It seems to me that twenty-five horse-power for a light body¿ a light machine throughout, is pretty close to a good standard of measurement. Heavy bodies could still be increased in horse-power proportionately to their weight.
One thing more in connection with lawmaking for the automobile. It is important—tremendously important —that the state should have inspectors of automobiles, whose duty it should be to see that all motor cars are in safe mechanical condition — that they are amply equipped with brakes, and that these brakes are in perfect order. The most important thing about an automobile—more important even than the engine or anything else—is the brake. On this depend the lives and the safety both of those in the car and of the public.
An automobile should be equipped with sufficient brake-power to make certain, at all times and under all conditions, that the car could be
stopped almost instantly. Two brakes are not enough. Four are not too many, and half a dozen of different kinds and methods of application would be better yet. A relay of brakes is always necessary, as it may happen at any time that a single brake, or even two, would refuse to work. Oil renders them useless for the time, and too frequently cars go out with brakes that are worn, or even broken. State inspectors, serious, honest, intelligent men, would save many human lives every year and show a tremendous reduction in the number of accidents.
The framing of laws that regulate and tend to prevent danger is quite as important to the public as are those hard and fast statutes that penalize the automobilist and drag him off to jail if he happens to run his car a bit faster than the law permits. It would be well if our lawmakers would first learn what an automobile can do and ought to do, before saying what it shall do and what it shall not do.