One of the most notable signs of ‘prosperity’ in the 1920s was the growth of the automobile industry. The vision of Henry Ford to create an affordable car for the masses became a reality with the rise of innovative production techniques.

The Rise of the Automobile Industry 

Henry Ford revolutionized the automobile industry in the 1920s with his dream of producing an inexpensive car that almost anyone could afford. Ford adopted mass production methods, setting up an assembly line that initially did not move. Workers stood alongside a stationary conveyor belt, adding parts to the 1900 cars in a sequence.

Eventually for the 1900s cars, Ford introduced a moving assembly line, where workers remained in one place while the line moved, allowing them to add new parts to the car’s frame. This method significantly increased production efficiency and reduced costs.

Assembly Line and Division of Labor

In the production of the 1920s cars, each worker on Ford’s assembly line had a specific task, known as the division of labor. Some workers added parts, while others secured them in place. Ford also standardized parts, meaning that wheels, engines, and bodies were mass-produced to be identical, ensuring a consistent assembly process. This method led to the production of the famous and practical Model T, affectionately called the “Tin Lizzy.” By 1924, the Model T could be purchased for around $395, making it affordable for the average North American.

Automobile- in-1920s-1

Expansion of Automobile Production

By 1926, Canada ranked second only to the United States in the number of privately owned automobiles. Canadian branch plants employed 12,000 workers who produced 200,000 cars annually in eleven automobile factories. By the end of the decade, Canada had more than 1.25 million motorized vehicles. This boom in automobile production boosted the demand for materials such as leather, rubber, glass, steel, tin, lead, aluminum, and nickel, and intensified the search for petroleum, leading to the 1920s being dubbed the “Oil Age.”

Economic and Social Impact

The proliferation of 1920s automobiles had a significant impact on North American society. As more people began driving, the demand for gasoline and oil soared. Oil and gas were not only used for fueling cars in the 1920s but also for heating and cooking. Significant oil deposits were discovered in Alberta in 1924, fueling further economic growth.

The rise of the automobile culture in the 1920s led to the creation of numerous jobs in service stations, parking lots, road construction, and repair shops. Governments invested heavily in infrastructure, paving main roads and surfacing country roads with gravel.

Transforming Daily Life

What were cars like in the 1920s?

1920s cars transformed daily life by bringing different parts of the country closer together. Families could visit relatives living 15 or 20 kilometers away and return home the same day. Young people began driving around with friends, marking a shift in social behavior. Farmers could drive to nearby towns for shopping instead of relying on mail-order catalogs. The automobile also facilitated suburban expansion, as people could live farther from their workplaces. This gave rise to the concept of the summer cottage and enabled longer-distance travel for vacations.

Tourism and Mobility

The increasing number of travelers led to the development of tourist cabins and motels along major roads. 1920s automobiles symbolized status and freedom, offering more privacy than trains or streetcars. The ability to travel independently became a hallmark of the decade.

The automobile in the 1920s marked a significant milestone in industrial history, transforming not only production methods but also societal norms and economic structures. Henry Ford’s innovations in mass production and the resulting affordability of cars like the Model T catalyzed a cultural shift towards greater mobility and independence.

Expert Insights

  • Production Statistics: There were approximately 8 million registered cars in the 1920s in the United States, and by 1929, this number had risen to over 23 million.
  • Economic Influence: The automobile industry in the 1920s significantly contributed to the economic boom, with the auto industry alone consuming 90% of America’s oil output, 80% of its rubber, 75% of its glass, and 20% of its steel production.

Cultural Shift: The automobile in the 1920s not only facilitated economic growth but also drove cultural change, leading to the establishment of drive-in restaurants, motels, and a new way of life centered around personal mobility.

author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0


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