The Automobile’s Service to France.
FRANK A. MUNSEY, IN MUNSEY’S MAGAZINE.
Not only are huge sums expended in France for the making and maintenance of automobiles but indirectly an almost incalculable amount is spent on account of the automobile. France is to-day the paradise of the automobilist. He comes to that country in shoals and he spends his money in French inns and shops lavishly.
To the French nation, the automobile has been a blessing.
IT is a pretty well-known fact that the automobile had its beginning, and in the first few years its chief development, in France, but just what the automobile means to France is little appreciated. It is known that every year a good many machines are manufactured and sold there, and at prices that must aggregate a good deal of money.
This, I should say, is about the casual way of thinking of the matter, if indeed people think of it at all. But the manufacture of automobiles and the proceeds of their sale are insignificant as compared with the vast amount of money that in a thousand other ways is put into circulation in the French Republic by means of the automobile.
The output of automobiles in France has grown in eight years, 1898 to 1905, inclusive, from just under two thousand to over twenty thousand cars. And the best obtainable figures show that these machines brought about tAvo millions of dollars in the former year and say fifty millions in the latter.
It is estimated that there are today employed in France, in one way or another, in the automobile industry and all that pertains thereto, including the care and repair of cars, more than tAvo hundred thousand people. This number would include not only all those working on the construction of new cars, but those employed on the basic materials that enter into their construction such
as steel and brass and aluminum and copper and Avood and leather, as well as those engaged in fashioning these products into the various parts for the automobile. ,Of chauffeurs alone a vast army finds steady Avork in France, for in a country Avhere wages are much lower than in America almost every one who OAvns a car keeps a mechanician. In every garage, too, many men are employed in the cleaning and care and repair of machines. The repairing of machines is in itself a vast industry, calling for as much if not more, labor than is given to the original construction of the automobile.
The motor car, though light in construction, is put to a far greater test than the railway locomotive Avith its ponderous strength. The latter runs on a smooth, level track free from abrupt turns and corners. Moreover, it runs on schedule time, and except in case of accident is not forced to the sudden stops that in the very nature of the case rack and strain machinery. The automobile, on the other hand, has all kinds and conditions of roads, varying from the perfect macadam to the impossible and disgraceful. The starting and stopping, jolting and jerking, turning and twisting, running over obstructions and through sand and mud and Avater — all this necessarily puts the automobile to the severest mechanical test. Under such conditions, and allowing for the tremendous speed of the machine, express train speed in
fact, the wear ancl tear and breakage in the usage of the automobile is and must be very great, and this strain is not alone on the machinery of the motor-car, but on the carosserie as well.
It follows naturally, then, that it must require a great army of workmen to keep these cars in repair. They not only have to keep in condition the new cars that come out every season, but the great accumulation of cars covering many seasons; and the older the car, the more wear and tear it has had, and the more severe its usage the more work there is for machinists and carriage builders. To clinch this statement, lest it seem absurd that approximately 'as many men should be employed in the repairing of cars as in the manufacture of them, one must take into consideration the great excess of cars in use over the annual production of new cars.
It has been impossible to get anything like accurate statistics on this repair feature of the automobile business, but from a pretty intimate knowledge of the general conditions I think I am not far wrong in concluding that the refashioning and recontruction of old machines, and the repairing of all machines, must furnish employment to as much labor and call for as much material, as the original, construction, and possibly a good deal more. And of course in the matter of tires and inner tubes, which at best have short life, the yearly consumption would be fully twenty times greater on the machines in use than is needed to equip the new machines. Chains, too, come in for rapid wear, and on cars in constant use must be changed frequently. Such supplies as gasoline, oils, grease, carbides, and other materials that disappear with the using, and
that run up to an enormous sum of money in a year, play no part in the new motor-car. They, like the chauffeur’s salary, figure only in the running expenses.
Starting with a basis of fifty million dollars, or thereabouts, as the selling value of new cars for the present year, it is a fairly reasonable estimate that the total direct income to France from the automobile and from automobiling, including all wages and the value of all materials, would reach up to well nigh two hundred million dollars.
But this great total is merely the direct income of the industry plus the cost of running the machines. It includes not one penny of the vast sum now pouring into France every year, which is superinduced by the automobile, but which is not directly dependent upon the machine itself or its maintenance.
Accurate figures as to this subsidiary amount — money that would never find its way into France were it not for the automobile—are beyond the grasp of the statistician. Even a fairly suggestive estimate would be hopelessly difficult to obtain. If one were to seek the exact truth, he would first have to learn who among the enormous number of people visiting France are there solely because of the automobile, either o r their own initiative or that of their family or friends. Next he would have to go to the custom house and ascertain the revenue from the dutiable articles brought in by this automobile contingent, and also the sums received on imported automobiles in use and to be used by these same people. From the custom house he would have to go to the steamship lines and railways and learn from them the moneys collected for transportation, baggage, and all other ex-
penses from this pleasure-bent army. A yet more important source of information would be the hotels. Here precise statistics from the many hostelries of Paris, great and small, and from the hotels and inns scattered throughout all France, dotting thoroughfares and by-ways, mountains and seashore, would aggregate an astoundingly large sum. Taxes on automobiles and the license fees for running them would also be a considerable amount.
Theatres, restaurants, cafes, shops and farms; the establishments of wine merchants, florists, jewelers, milliners, dressmakers, tailors, trunkmakers, artists, bric-a-brac and furniture dealers—all these, and every other phase of industry, are benefitted and enriched by this tremendous accession of tourists.
Travel through France, and everywhere the renovation and refurbishing and refurnishing and general bringing up to date of antiquated and impossible old hotels, speaks eloquently for the automobile and what it has done for the country. In every little village and town provision is now made for the automobilist, not only in supplies such as gasoline, oils, and tires, but by shopkeepers, hotels, and restaurants. The automobile has brought new life and new atmosphere into these dead old places with their grass-grown streets.
The influx of tourists into France has become so great that the hotel capacity of Paris is overtaxed and strained to the point of breaking. This year the city has been so crowded that only a small percentage of visitors could be properly and satisfactorily housed. This is particularly true of the American who seeks and is willing to pay for such luxuries as our best modern hotels furnish at home. Within the last half dozen
years great improvements have been made in the old hotels in the way of putting in baths and polishing and painting and modernizing in so far as possible. These changes, however, it is safe to say, would not have gone on to any considerable extent, bjut for the automobile. There would have been no urgent necessity for them.
Formerly the average American man wasn’t especially keen about Paris. The life there, after once seeing It as a matter of curiosity, did not appeal to our temperament. The language and customs were foreign to us. True, a few artists and some others liked the place, but they were in a hopeless minority. It was England, with its similar language and similar people, and with a history in which we are so deeply rooted—it was England that attracted the American man. Switzerland, Germany, and other countries were interesting and attractive places for recreation and as a refuge from our hot summers and hard work.
The English lines, which prior to a few years ago almost wholly controlled the better grade of passenger traffic between New York and Europe, did not touch at French ports, and do not to-day, as to that matter. With the present trend of travel, it is a question if they will not soon be forced to do so as a matter of selfpreservation, when so many people now prefer going direct to the continent, cutting out thereby the much dreaded Channel trip from London to Paris. The American line, which up to a few years ago landed all its passengers at Southampton, now, like the German lines, touches at Cherbourg.
Without knowing the actual statistics, but relying upon observation and a fairly good knowledge of the
people who go abroad and where they spend their time, it is safe to say that a great majority of them now land on the continent instead of on English shores, and of this number who land on the continent a very large percentage disembark at French ports. Moreover, most of the wealthy or well-to-do people who land elsewhere sooner or later find their way to Paris. This is equally true of those who go direct to England. Whatever country one misses, the one country he does not miss to-day, if he can help it, is France. This is a very marked change from what was the case a few years ago. An American no longer feels himself a stranger or among strange people in Paris. In Summer, when most of our people are there, he meets so many Americans and English on every turn that he feels very much at home and as if he were among an Englishspeaking race. And the presence of so many Americans and English in Paris has stimulated the French to familiarize themselves with our language.
That the automobile has been a chief factor in bringing about this result, which is so benefitting and enriching the French nation, cannot be denied. The men who formerly, with suppressed protests, went to Paris with their wives and daughters, to whom the shops were an irresistible attraction now go there for their own pleasure.
Everybody, not only from America, but from all the countries of the earth, once in Paris, suddenly finds the automobile spirit getting into his blood. If he has the price he makes the plunge and finds out what automobiling from the inside of the machine is like. And once trying it on French roads, he becomes a sudden and enthusiastic and well sustained
convert. The automobile has not only changed the viewpoint of the regular tourists who go abroad—that is to say, those who have been in the habit of going, and who would go if the motor-car had not been invented—it has not only made them devotees of France, but has led a very large army of others to cross over and spend their holidays and leisure months, whether Winter or Summer, in France—people, I mean, solely induced to do this by the automobile.
And the money chis latter contingent take with them is for the most part, or wholly, spent in France. What is true of the American is equally true of Englishmen, who now swarm over to France for an automobile run and for a jolly holiday. The Italian, the Russian, the German, the Austrian, and many from the other countries of Europe do likewise. France has become the great Summer playground of the wTorld; and not only is it the Summer playground, but southern France is the finest Winter playground in Europe. This was of course the fact before the advent of the automobile, but the latter has tremendously increased the popularity of the French Riviera, furnishing as it does such an unrivaled means of pleasure.
England and Switzerland were pretty thoroughly traversed prior to the automobile, but France, the country outside of Paris, except for a few watering places and a few conspicuously well known places, was little understood and little known, by the American traveler in particular. The automobile gives one real geography — an intimate knowledge of the topography and character and atmosphere of a country which is concrete and everlasting.
I know what all this means, having traversed in its broad lanes the whole
country in all sections. A lifetime spent in France railroading from point to point and driving oehiid horses would not and could not have given me so good an idea of the real France as I now have. City life, yes —but the great stretches of fertile fields, and the valleys and mountains and seashore, the little villages and country homes and country folk, the great waving fields of grain, the fruit orchards, vineyards, and flower gardens—this is the true France, not the boulevards and the boulevardiers of Paris.
The money flowing into France from other sources than their own people, and which is the direct outgrowth of the automobile, goes into such an infinite diversity of interests and fields of human endeavor that a classification or tabulation of them is impossible. One man might accidentally or otherwise guess more closely than another. I have no idea of the tremendous aggregate, but that it is sufficiently large to make up a total from direct and indirect sources—and in this is included what I have termed the subsidiary income —a grand total of four hundred milion dollars annually, I am prepared to believe. At all events, the automobile in half a dozen years has brought the French people an outlet for its labor, its basic and finished materials, its art and the art creations of the Rue de la Paix, that a hundred years would perhaps not have realized to them except for this invention.
And the reason of all this, next to the automobile itself, is the roads of France, the finest roads the world has ever known. The French Government and the French people, realizing what the automobile would certainly mean to them, have had the cleverness and foresight to encourage its
use by liberal laws and extreme courtesy—a courtesy on the part of the peasants and people in all stations of life that is at once a surprise and a delight to the tourist.
But the value of the automobile as an industry, and in its influence on the trend of travel to France, is dn its infancy. Next year more tourists will be in France than any previous season, and in succeeding seasons the tide of travel will for a considerable time continue to rise. No country in recent years has been so well advertised, and it has the merits and the comforts, -and yields the pleasures, to hold the people when once they get there and know it as they only can with the aid of the automobile.
As an initiatory advertisement “The Lightning Conductor,” which nearly every one seems to have read, was worth to France a million dollars, perhaps ten times as much. Since that book was issued every one I have ever met abroad has either taken the trip through Touraine and other parts of France, or has lamented his inability to do so. To turn the tide of travel to any one section of the world is something that cannot be done by deUberate parpóse and undertaking. It must come about from deeper and more fundamental causes than the schemes of statesmanship 01 organization. But once flowing into a county, it is apt to remain until other great underlying causes or developments turn it back and aside. France will therefore continue to reap in larger and larger and still larger measure these benefits in the development of which the automobile has been so wonderful a factor, a fundamental factor.
There is a lesson for us here in America to be drawn from the ex-
perience of France. To be sure, the conditions are widely different. France had her good roads long prior to the automobile. Their great pioneer builder was Napoleon, and no man ever built such roads as he. He set the example which has since been followed with the highest skill and efficiency by the great governmental department, the Ponts et Chaussées, which cares for the highways of France.
France is not divided up into fortyfive or fifty independent empires, as is this country. There is a unity of organization there that simplifies things and saves endless controversy and friction. Here there are no two States that have the same automobile laws. If one were to travel in a motor-car throughout our whole Union, he would have to plaster every available inch of space on his car with numbers, and would have to equip himself in the outset with licenses from all these States and Territories, and familiarize himself with the various laws therein. But this is the surface of things. Fundamentally our trouble is in our roads, miserable, inexcusable roads for the most part, for such a great, strong, rich nation as ours. Next to the roads as a difficulty with which the American automobilist must contend is the popular prejudice that he has to encounter—a prejudice, I must say, more or less well founded. But there is a special cause for this prejudice that does not exist in France, and that gets right back to our narrow, dangerous roads.
Give us the great, broad, fine roads of Napoleon, and the keenness of American prejudice against the automobile will largely disappear. This prejudice rests on common sense, and there is no more common sense people in the world than Americans.
On a wide road, if a horse is frightened, the chances of serious accident are so minimized that little alarm would naturally be felt, whereas on a narrow crowning road, with ditches on either side, as is so frequently the case, there is no place of escape for the frightened horse. The accidents from these frights, the nuisance of dust from our dirt roads, and the general fear of the automobile, have created and engendered the American prejudice. The feeling has been accentuated by the reckless handling of cars by drivers to whom the automobile is still a new toy.
That the motor-car has come to stay there can be no doubt. Give us the broad, fine roads of France, give us uniform laws throughout the whole country, interstate laws, and let them be such as will stand for the ,best interests of the people, yet at the same time be rational and fair to the automobilist—give us these, and America, I am certain, will become the greatest automobile country of the world, and the greatest summer playground of the world.
We have here a hundred, perhaps five hundred people to one of any other country who can afford to go in for automobiling. We have the money, the temperament, and the country, and though we were a few years behind France in starting, we now have men at the head of the automobile industry who, backed with unlimited capital and the genius for the task in hand, are certain to work out the highest development of the automobile, the top notch of perfection. Give us these good roads, I repeat, accompanied by wise laws, and a hundred million dollars of American money that now goes annually to enrich Europe will remain at home to build bigger and stronger our own great country.