One of the most obvious signs of prosperity in the 1920s was the growth of the automobile industry. Henry Ford dreamed of making an inexpensive car that almost anyone could afford to buy. Ford decided to apply to car manufacturing a method of mass production that was being used in some industries. Ford set up an assembly line that ran from one end of a building to another. At first, the line did not move. The workers walked along it, adding parts to the automobiles. Later, Ford had the line itself move like a conveyor belt. As the line moved, workers who remained in one place added new parts to the frame. By the time a car reached the end of the line, it had been assembled and was ready to be driven.
Each worker on the assembly line had a separate job. Some added parts while others secured the parts in place. This was called the division of labour. Ford also used standard parts for his cars, which meant that wheels, engines, and bodies were mass produced and exactly alike, so that assembly would be identical for each car. As a result, Ford was able to produce the famous and practical “Model T” at a price that average North Americans could afford. The “Tin Lizzy”, as the Model T was affectionately called, had a simple box-like design. In 1924, it could be purchased for around $395.
By 1926, Canada was second only to the United States in its number of privately owned automobiles. Twelve thousand workers working in branch plants made 200 000 cars in eleven Canadian automobile factories every year. By the end of the decade, there were more than 1.25 million motorized vehicles in the country. Automobile manufacturing boosted the production of leather, rubber, glass, steel, tin, lead, aluminum, and nickel, as well as intensifying the search for petroleum. People called the 1920’s the “Oil Age”. As more Canadians took to the road in automobiles, the demand for gasoline and oil soared. In addition to automobiles, oil and gas were also used for heating and cooking. An all-out search for new resources of “thin black gold” was on! In 1924, vast oil deposits were discovered in Alberta.
The automobile did a lot to change our way of living. Canada and the United States became a car culture. In addition to jobs created within the automobile factories, new jobs were created to service automobiles. Jobs in service stations, parking lots, road construction, and repair shops sprang up. Governments spent increasing amounts of money on highways. Main roads were paved and some country roads were given a surface of gravel.
The automobile brought all parts of the country together. On Sunday, a family with a car could call on relatives 15 or 20 km away, and still be home in time for supper. Young people began to ‘drive’ around with their friends instead of staying home with their families. Farmers could drive to nearby towns for a day of shopping instead of relying on mail-order catalogues. The car also made it possible for people to live farther from their place of work. People sought open green spaces for their houses, so suburbs started to expand on the outskirts of many cities. The family car made it possible to have a summer cottage and to travel longer distances for summer vacations. Along the major roads, tourist cabins and motels developed to house the increasing number of travelers. The car also became a symbol of status and freedom, and were much more private than riding a train or street car.