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Central Question: How did the rise of the automobile affect U.S. economics, culture, and society?

What Textbooks Say

Textbooks assemble three main narratives in automobile history: Henry Ford and the Ford Motor Company, the rise of modern industry, and the rise of leisure culture. [...] »

What Historians Say

The textbook portrait misses the critical economic, social, and cultural importance of the automobile age, and the complexity of the automobile's development and impact on American life. [...] »

What Sources Say

In primary sources, the automobile stands at the center of shifts in American definitions of work and the "good life." [...] »


Photo, Model A Ford in front of antique gas pumps, August 4, 2007, Flickr

The car is something that all students recognize and, in all likelihood, use every day. Considering the many aspects of the automobile and auto use can spur them to think about the fundamental changes that accompanied America's entry into the 20th century and our continued development today. Explore three main textbook narratives and other ways of examining the complex history of automobiles in America.

Read the full essay and explore the sources.   »