Its appeal, after its early and somewhat mistrustful reception as a plaything for the rich, a sporting toy for the adventurous, and (in rural America) a “devil wagon” that frightened livestock and rutted roads, was very wide.
As one farmwoman in the 1920s told an inspector from the United States Department of Agriculture who inquired why her family had bought a car rather than putting indoor plumbing into their home, “You can’t go to town in a bathtub.” Doubtless this woman, like those interviewed for Robert S. Lynd’s renowned studies of the Midwestern community of Muncie, Indiana, otherwise known as (1937), exaggerated the value of the vehicle, but there is no doubt that the automobile did have transforming social and economic characteristics.
So how did American motorists respond to the limitations and the possibilities of automobility in the early twentieth century?
There is no doubt that more Americans wanted to own and actually bought automobiles in the years after World War I because they could see the potential for geographical mobility.
These modes of motorized transport have offered major opportunities for understanding how and why Americans take not only mobility, but also rapid mobility, for granted.
The new histories that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, however, emphasized the importance of anonymous Americans and the automobile’s cultural influence and impact.So both would-be motorists and motorists of both sexes pressured their local and state authorities to improve the roads.The federal government had been aware of the desirability of developing roads and had discussed funding for highways prior to World War I, but the war itself made that support more urgent, if only for defense or military reasons.Gender is now fully recognized as a vibrant and important category of historical analysis, for the different circumstances of the sexes have made women and men experience and understand events in different ways.While early definitions and usage of gender frequently made the word synonymous with the relationship between the female and male sexes, with the examination of women and men as gendered persons, and with the discussion of the social construction of both femininity and femaleness and masculinity and manhood.