Archive for the ‘history’ Category

Record Players For Cars Seemed Like A Good Idea In 1956

April 21, 2014 Leave a comment


The history of consumer goods is littered with brilliant ideas that weren’t quite ready for public consumption yet. In the ’50s, if you wanted to listen to some music in your vehicle, your choices were listening to the radio or forcing your family members to sing. Until the invention of the Highway Hi-Fi in-car record player changed all that. Or could have, if it had caught on with the public.

You know, records: those large, flat vinyl discs susceptible to scratches and prone to skipping that people used for playing music for much of the 20th century. In a world without consumer magnetic tape players, how else were you going to transport music into vehicles? Multiple companies thought that turntables for the car were fantastic and commercially viable ideas. They were not. Consumer Reports unearthed this bit of semi-forgotten tune-blasting history from the late ’50s and early ’60s.

The first in-car record system was the Highway Hi-Fi, available on some Chrysler vehicles beginning in 1956. The system cost the equivalent of about $1,700 in 2014 dollars, and could only use proprietary 7″ records when the system debuted. It came with a handy selection of records: Broadway musicals, radio drama selections, and pop tunes. You could order additional records from Columbia and a later version of the system accepted standard 45 RPM records.

After the demise of the Highway Hi-Fi, RCA introduced a similar, cheaper system. Naturally, the predecessors of our tune-testing colleagues down the hall at Consumer Reports tested it to find out whether it was worth buying. The in-car Victrola cost only $410 in today’s dollars–not cheap, but not ridiculous, either. It held 14 records, which was good for a few hours of music or talk if you bought extended-play 45 RPM discs and wanted to listen to everything in the player. (A 45 RPM record is one of those 7-inch discs that holds maybe one song on each side.)

A competing system from Norelco only held one standard 45, so the driver would have to swap out the disc or maybe hit “repeat” after every song. Also, testers noted that the turntable ran fast, resulting in quicker, higher-pitched music than was intended.

Give your car stereo’s cassette, CD, or integrated digital infotainment system an affectionate pat the next time you get in your car. Their innovative ancestors weren’t marketplace successes, but driving a car with only a radio is now almost unthinkable.

via Consumerist

Categories: auto, history

A Visual History Of Car Customization

Explore more visuals like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.
Categories: auto, history


February 14, 2014 Leave a comment


It’s hard to picture what today’s teenagers will wax nostalgic about 30 years from now when they reminisce about their first car. (It still required gasoline, perhaps?) Who knows how automobiles will change in the future; what we do know is how different they are today from 30 or more years ago. If you fondly remember being surrounded by two or three tons of solid Detroit steel with a whip antenna on the front from which you could tie a raccoon tail or adorn with an orange Union 76 ball, and enough leg room that you didn’t suffer from phlebitis on long road trips, then you might also miss a few of these.

1. Bench Seats

The last American production model car to offer a bench seat in the front, the Chevy Impala, will cease doing so after this year. Back before seat belts were even included in cars—much less mandatory to wear—three passengers could fit comfortably in the front of most cars, or four if one was a child or a skinny relative. Many sly males took advantage of the seat design while driving with a female companion; a quick, unexpected sharp turn made with his right arm resting on the seat back sent the lady sliding right into his embrace.

2. Tailfins

Tailfins were the brainchild of General Motors design chief Harley Earl. The first fins appeared on the 1948 Cadillac, inspired by the WWII Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter plane. By the late 1950s, most folks had shrugged off the war and were fixated instead on all things space-age. Tailfins grew to enormous proportions, giving cars a futuristic look.

3. Ashtrays

Ashtrays were commonly found in the dashboard (along with an electric lighter), mounted on the back of the front seat, and in the armrests on opposite sides of the back seat. Even if you weren’t a smoker, the tray in the dash was handy for storing coins, and the rear ones were handy receptacles for candy wrappers and discarded chewing gum. If you want an ashtray in your new car, ask for the Smoker’s Package.

4. Spacious Trunks

Back in the good old days you could easily fit a week’s worth of groceries, the spare tire, and a Mafia snitch in the trunk and still have room for that old TV set with the blown picture tube you’ve been meaning to take to the repair shop. Today (unless you’re buying a minivan), you’re lucky to get 20 cubic feet of space (2013 Ford Taurus) in your sedan. According to measurements in an issue of Popular Mechanics, the 1961 models of the Buick Special (25.5 cubic feet), Chrysler Newport (33 cubic feet), DeSoto (32.8 cubic feet), and Ford Galaxie (30.5 cubic feet) all had bigger trunk space. (Special thanks to our friends at PopMech for digging up these numbers for us!)

5. Full-Size Spare Tire

The advantage with a full-size spare was that you could put it on, stow the flat tire in your trunk, and go on your merry way with no particular urgency to get it repaired (unlike today’s donuts, which are designed to be used for limited distances at speeds under 50 miles per hour). The disadvantage was that sometimes you went on your merry way for many months … until one day you got another puncture, only to discover that the tire in your trunk was just as flat as the one on the axle.

6. Floor-Mounted Dimmer Switch

Maybe my reflexes are dulling as I grow older, but I have a hard time figuring out where the switch for the high beams among all the levers and buttons on today’s vehicles. In the old days, it was a button in the general vicinity left of the brake pedal, so even in an unfamiliar car all you had to do was tap around with your toe a few times to find it.

7. Vent Windows

Vent or “wing” windows were popular in the pre-air conditioning era of automotive manufacturing. But they were convenient for many purposes that are still valid today. For example, on those days when it’s temperate enough to open windows rather than run the A/C, the vent windows allowed air to circulate freely without blowing street grime in your face and messing your hair. Smokers also appreciated being able to flick their ashes out the “no-draft” without the fear of them flying back inside the vehicle.

8. Horn Rings

Horn rings were originally considered a safety feature as well as a convenience device. Previously, the driver had to completely remove one hand from the steering wheel to depress the button in the center to honk the horn. The horn ring was designed so that both hands could remain on the wheel and just a stretch of a finger or thumb would be able to beep a warning sound. As driver side airbags started entering the market, horn activation was relocated to a button in the steering wheel spokes.

9. Audible Turn Signals

How many fewer drivers would drive for miles and miles with their turn signal flashing if the indicators still made an audible noise as they blinked? In the old days, the sound was more of a tinka-tinka high-pitched tone, but even this late ’90s audible click might keep a few folks from appearing to be making their way around the world to the left.

10. “Suicide” Doors

Rear-hinged doors got their macabre name in the pre-seat belt era; if such a door wasn’t closed tight while the car was in motion, the road wind would fling it wide open and the passenger would most likely be tossed to the pavement. But they were popular for quite a while up until the 1960s because of the convenience—there was no pillar separating the front and back seats when both side doors were opened, so there was plenty of room to daintily climb inside (especially in a time when women regularly wore dresses and high heels).

11. Control Knobs

Texting and driving is certainly dangerous, but what about having to read a touch-screen or take your eyes from the road to find the tiny button that controls your defroster/radio station/air conditioning? How much easier it used to be with nice, solid knobs and levers that you either pulled, pushed, slid or twirled, and which were always pretty much in the same place in every car? You could keep your eyes on the road and somehow your right hand instinctively knew which knob was the radio volume and how far to slide the lever to get more heat.

Via Mental Floss

Categories: auto, history

The Story of the Fourth of July


The Declaration of Independence

We celebrate American Independence Day on the Fourth of July every year. We think of July 4, 1776, as a day that represents the Declaration of Independence and the birth of the United States of America as an independent nation.

But July 4, 1776 wasn’t the day that the Continental Congress decided to declare independence (they did that on July 2, 1776).

It wasn’t the day we started the American Revolution either (that had happened back in April 1775).

And it wasn’t the day Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence (that was in June 1776). Or the date on which the Declaration was delivered to Great Britain (that didn’t happen until November 1776). Or the date it was signed (that was August 2, 1776).

So what did happen on July 4, 1776?

The Continental Congress approved the final wording of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. They’d been working on it for a couple of days after the draft was submitted on July 2nd and finally agreed on all of the edits and changes.

July 4, 1776, became the date that was included on the Declaration of Independence, and the fancy handwritten copy that was signed in August (the copy now displayed at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.) It’s also the date that was printed on the Dunlap Broadsides, the original printed copies of the Declaration that were circulated throughout the new nation. So when people thought of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776 was the date they remembered.

In contrast, we celebrate Constitution Day on September 17th of each year, the anniversary of the date the Constitution was signed, not the anniversary of the date it was approved. If we’d followed this same approach for the Declaration of Independence we’d being celebrating Independence Day on August 2nd of each year, the day the Declaration of Independence was signed!

How did the Fourth of July become a national holiday?

For the first 15 or 20 years after the Declaration was written, people didn’t celebrate it much on any date. It was too new and too much else was happening in the young nation. By the 1790s, a time of bitter partisan conflicts, the Declaration had become controversial. One party, the Democratic-Republicans, admired Jefferson and the Declaration. But the other party, the Federalists, thought the Declaration was too French and too anti-British, which went against their current policies.

By 1817, John Adams complained in a letter that America seemed uninterested in its past. But that would soon change.

After the War of 1812, the Federalist party began to come apart and the new parties of the 1820s and 1830s all considered themselves inheritors of Jefferson and the Democratic-Republicans. Printed copies of the Declaration began to circulate again, all with the date July 4, 1776, listed at the top. The deaths of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams on July 4, 1826, may even have helped to promote the idea of July 4 as an important date to be celebrated.

Celebrations of the Fourth of July became more common as the years went on and in 1870, almost a hundred years after the Declaration was written, Congress first declared July 4 to be a national holiday as part of a bill to officially recognize several holidays, including Christmas. Further legislation about national holidays, including July 4, was passed in 1939 and 1941.

Categories: history

A History of the Car Cup Holder


“Cup Holder” (Credit: US Patent  2628054)

Ever since George Washington crossed the Delaware  to go sign the lease on his new pickup truck (with 0 percent APR!), President’s  Day has been associated with getting a good deal on a car. And while some people  buy cars based on gas mileage or sporty looks, we all know that the most  important parts of a vehicle are its cup holders.

They need to be plentiful, sturdy, and capable of holding any beverage ever  created by man, preferably with those little spring-loaded gripper arms to keep  your coffee or Big Gulp safe from pothole jostles. Cup holders aren’t just  essential for our constant hydration, they’re also the source of our  psychological well-being on the road: Clotaire Rapaille, a cultural  anthropologist, has theorized  that having warm liquid close by in the car brings our subconscious back to the  safety of early childhood, and the food-love of our mother’s milk.
But cars weren’t always such happy places. In the dark  days of early automotion, designers presumed that drivers would actually stop  driving to eat or drink something, so cup holders had no place in interiors.  From the get-go, though, aftermarket innovators sought to connect mobile  Americans with food. If you were a Model T owner back in the ’20s, you were  expected to modify your jalopy with as many doodads as you could afford to order  from the Sears catalog, whose Ford gadget section, as  E.B. White described it, “was larger than men’s clothing, almost as  large as household furnishings.” You could add a flower vase to your dashboard,  transform your car from a convertible to a hardtop, fiddle infinitely with the  inner workings of your engine–and strap an  entire kitchenette to the running boards, complete with a fold-out  table and labeled compartments for flour meal, eggs, and ice water.
Real demand for the cup holder didn’t pick up  until the 1950s, when drive-ins and drive-thru windows became mainstays of  American eating. The very earliest evidence of complete cup-holding comes from a  1950 newspaper clipping that describes a “snack tray for car” that “hangs from  dashboard.” The cups were held by metal discs hanging on chains from the tray,  and seem to actually be fairly secure.
A few other ideas were floating around, too. Some were bad, like the Automobile  Seat Article Holder, patented in 1953, which trusted a hinged plate wedged  between the seat cushions to keep your drinks from sloshing around, but one  Clyde W. Morgan of Dallas patented a precursor of the modern slide-out cup  holder, the Refreshment  Tray for Automobile Instrument Panel, which included two wells for  beverages.While inventors tried to fill the cup holder void,  manufacturers started including proto-cup holders on the back of glove  compartment doors (the earliest documented model with these is a 1955 Chevy).  They weren’t anything more than little indentations in the plastic, unsafe for  sipping at any speed, but they were a step in the right direction.

The best beverage security system of the era, though, belonged to the 1957  Cadillac Eldorado Brougham. Plenty of ultra-luxurious limousines had had  built-in bars, but the Brougham was the first to come with a magnetized glove  compartment door and a set of four metal tumblers, perfect for keeping your  cognac stable while you’re passing the jitney on the way to the  Hamptons.

In the ’60s, trays that would hook into the window well of the  door became available, and were fairly commonplace as aftermarket accessories by  the ’70s. Patents from the time exist for a more  advanced version of Clyde W. Morgan’s pull-out tray, but customers looking  for a car with a built-in cup holder were still stuck in the wilderness, or more  likely in traffic, trying to turn left and shift into second while balancing  their hot mugs of Sanka.

But that all changed in 1983, when Chrysler invented the minivan. The Dodge  Caravan and Plymouth Voyager (which were the same car, for the most part) not  only saved the company while creating a whole new category of car in the  American market, they rolled off the assembly line with two serious cup holders  in sunk into the plastic of the dashboard. In the next few years, more and more  cars started including cup holders in their interior design–but it would take  at least another decade for them to become ubiquitous.In 1989, US  News and World Report was still  calling “crannies for drinking cups” an unnecessary “future frill,” but the  life-or-death necessity of the cup holder was proven in the infamous 1994  lawsuit, Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants. If you’re too young to remember the  hot coffee case (or happened to spend that year renting a nice cave in the  Poconos), Stella Liebeck, a 79-year-old woman, sued McDonald’s for damages after  spilling 180-degree coffee on her lap in a stationary car. She got third-degree  burns from the spill, and was awarded $2.7 million (reduced to $640,000 on  appeal) by the jury. The case became fodder for endless Leno monologues and a  national argument about tort reform, but it was also a strong argument for  industry-wide adoption of the cup holder–if the car she’d been sitting in, her  grandson’s Ford Probe, had had even one single cup holder, the whole ordeal  might have been avoided.

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Categories: auto, history Tags: , ,

Celebrities Who Served Our Country

November 12, 2012 Leave a comment

Let’s look at a few famous folks who left fame at the height of their celebrity (OK, except for maybe Pete Rose) to serve our country. Happy Veterans Day!

1. Pete Rose was in the Ohio Army National Guard. He served at Fort Knox for six months, where he was a platoon guide, and then with a Reserve Unit at Fort Thomas for three years, where he was a company cook.

2. Glenn Miller really wanted to serve his country. Because he was too old (38), the Navy turned down his services. He actually had to convince the Army Air Forces to accept him. He said he wanted to lead a “modernized army band”, and he did. He and his band had a weekly radio broadcast that was so successful, he was upgraded to a 50-piece band that traveled all over the world playing for troops. In England alone, he and his band gave 800 performances. On December 15, 1944, Major Glenn Miller was on his way to Paris when his plane disappeared over the English Channel. Neither Miller or the plane have ever been found.

3. Elvis. Elvis was drafted on December 20, 1957, completed basic training on September 17, 1958, and then served in Friedberg, Germany (where he met Colin Powell), from October 1, 1958 through March 2, 1960. He could have joined “Special Services,” which basically would have allowed him to receive special treatment because he was Elvis. But he preferred to serve just like everyone else, and the guys who served with him have said that he just wanted to be one of the guys. He was honorably discharged as Sergeant Elvis Presley.

4. Jimmy Stewart was born to a family of military men – both of his grandfathers were in the Civil War and his dad served in the Spanish-American War and WWI. He was an accomplished pilot before the war even broke out, so when he enlisted in 1941 (the first major movie star to do so), it was no surprise that he began pilot training immediately. When it seemed like he was going to be taken off of pilot duty to make recruitment films and things like that instead, Jimmy appealed to his superior and said that he really wanted to serve in combat. His wish was granted. We don’t know how many missions he flew, because he requested that the total never be released, but we do know that many of his missions were deep into Nazi territory – he wasn’t just running cargo. Jimmy Stewart’s military history could be a whole post by itself, it’s so impressive – but I’ll try to keep it short by just saying that he ended up going from private to colonel in only four years, something only a handful of Americans have ever done. In 1959, he was named Brigadier General. His honors included the Distinguished Service Medal, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, four Air Medals, an Army Commendation Medal, an Armed Forces Reserve Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the French Croix de Guerre with Palm.

5. Clark Gable. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces after his wife, Carole Lombard, died in a plane crash. She had been at a war bond rally in Indiana. She had encouraged him to enlist before her death, but MGM didn’t want to lose one of their biggest stars. After she was gone, Gable insisted on enlisting and ended up serving in five high-profile combat missions. Here’s an especially creepy fact: Hitler knew Gable was serving in the U.S. forces and offered a reward to any of his men who brought Gable to him, unharmed. Fortunately, that didn’t happen and was he was honorably discharged as Captain Clark Gable after D-Day. He was awarded the Air Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

6. Ted Williams not only served in WWII, like most of this list – he also served in the Korean War. His first stint saw him as a flight instructor at the Naval Air Station Pensacola. Although he was no longer on active duty after WWII, he did stay in the reserves and was called back to duty in 1952 and served in the same unit as John Glenn. And don’t think that his celebrity status let him sit back at a cushy desk job – nope, Ted flew 38 combat missions and even received an Air Medal for bringing his damaged plane back to base. When he turned 40, General MacArthur sent him an oil painting and personalized it with this:

“”To Ted Williams – not only America’s greatest baseball player, but a great American who served his country. Your friend, Douglas MacArthur. General U.S. Army.”

7. Henry Fonda famously enlisted in the Navy with the quote, “I don’t want to be in a fake war in a studio.” He served for three years, first as a Quartermaster (navigator) and then as a Lieutenant, Junior Grade. He received a Presidential Citation and the Bronze Star.

8. Gene Autry was inducted into the Army Air Forces on July 26, 1942, during a live broadcast of his radio show. He already had a pilot’s license and made it his goal to become a Flight Officer, which he earned on June 21, 1944. His chief duty as a pilot was to haul fuel and other necessities, but he also served at war bond rallies, recruiting drives and with the USO. He was honorably discharged in 1946. His awards included the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and the WWII Victory Medal.

9. Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., was a reserve officer in the Navy, but he was assigned to Lord Mountbatten’s staff in England, which gave him lots of opportunities that most reserve officers didn’t have. As a result, he came extremely proficient in military deception skills. So, he used those skills to form the Beach Jumpers. The mission of the Beach Jumpers was to land on beaches and convince the enemy that they were the force to be worried about, when in fact the real attacking unit was landing elsewhere. For his ingenuity, Fairbanks was awarded the Silver Star, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Legion of Merit, the Croix Guerre with Palm, the Legio D’Honneuer, the Italian War Cross for Military and was made an Honorary Knight Commander of the British Empire.

10. Gene Roddenberry was the creator of Star Trek, so it’s fitting that he was a combat pilot in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1941. He was part of the 394th Bomb Squadron that referred to themselves as the Bomber Barons. Like Ted Williams, Clark Gable and Jimmy Stewart, he also received the Air Medal. And, also like Stewart and Gable, he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross as well.

Thanks for your service, veterans!

Categories: history Tags: ,

When the Car Radio Was Introduced, People Freaked Out

January 9, 2012 Leave a comment

In 1930, laws were proposed in Massachusetts and St. Louis to ban radios while driving. According to automotive historian Michael Lamm, “Opponents of car radios argued that they distracted drivers and caused accidents, that tuning them took a driver’s attention away from the road, and that music could lull a driver to sleep.”

Even the Auto Club of New York agreed. In their 1934 poll, 56 percent deemed the car radio a “dangerous distraction.” Arguing the other side was the Radio Manufacturers Association, who pointed out that car radios could be used to warn drivers of inclement weather and bad road conditions, as well as keeping them awake when they got drowsy.

A little history on the car radio: The first one was introduced in 1922 by Chevrolet. It cost a whopping $200, and with an antenna that covered the car’s entire roof, batteries that barely fit under the front seat and two mammoth speakers attached behind the seat, it was about as convenient as taking a live orchestra along for a ride.

By the early 1930s, the less cumbersome built-in Motorola radios were standard features in cars. Later in the decade, push-button tuning and presets helped drivers to select stations without taking their eyes off the road. By 1946, 9 million cars had radios. Thanks to the transistor, both size and price came way down, so that by 1963, 50 million cars – over 60 percent – were outfitted with radios. By then, over one third of America’s radio listening occurred in the car.

And those anti-radio laws? Though a few were signed in small municipalities, they mostly went nowhere. Unlike the current anti-texting laws.

Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia have now banned text messaging while driving. And the tickets are already piling up. In New York last year, over 5,000 texting tickets have been written (each carries a $150 fine plus two points).

Common sense tells us that texting while driving is hazardous. Since it is a relatively new phenomenon, its correlation to accidents is still under study. But here are some statistics that you may find more OMFG than LOL:

According to tests at the University of Utah, a driver is 4 times more likely to cause an accident while driving drunk or talking on a cell phone. And 8 times more likely to cause an accident while texting.
A 2009 study conducted by Car and Driver magazine measured two drivers’ reaction times to the onset of a simulated brake light on their front windshields. The unimpaired driver took .45 seconds to brake and traveled 4 feet before stopping. The texting driver took .57 seconds to brake and traveled 41 feet before stopping.
According to statistics compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 5,870 people died in texting-related car crashes in 2008.
The same texting-related statistics revealed that 515,000 people were injured in various car crashes in the United States. Around 28 percent of all crashes in 2008 were caused by drivers in the age group of 18 and 29, who admitted to texting while driving.
But it’s not just young people. The texting-while-driving statistics in 2010 compiled by Pew Research Center revealed that 47 percent of adults resort to texting as compared to 34 percent of teenagers. The same stats revealed that 75 percent of adults resort to phone conversation while driving as compared to 52 percent of teenagers.

Stats aside, is it even relevant to compare car radios and texting? You could argue that for the average American back in the 1930s, operating an automobile was as involved and treacherous as flying a plane. Levers, buttons, gauges, stick shift. Add the extra ball of a radio into that attention-juggling equation, and you were asking for a fender bender.

Eighty years on, the car radio is just another part of the dashboard. But to some, it remains suspect. In 2002, the NHTSA blamed 66% of the 43,000 fatal car crashes on “Playing with the radio or CD.”

Still, there’s a big difference between tuning a radio dial and texting. The first requires one eye and a split second. The other requires both eyes, and several seconds or more. Plus most of your attention.

That so many of us believe that we can handle texting while driving is tied to the myth of multi-tasking. Scientists have shown that the brain cannot really focus on multiple tasks simultaneously. What it can do is shift from one to the next with astonishing speed. But car accidents can also happen with equally astonishing speed. Plus, there are many factors beyond our control, not the least of which are other drivers and pedestrians who may also be distracted by anything from drinking coffee to having a conversation to texting.

via mental_floss

Categories: auto, history