Dating home > Automobiles > 1900s


The turn-of-the-century marked an important milestone in the evolution of the automobile. The car was no longer a curiosity but was technically advanced enough to fare on the better roads of the nation. The first mass-produced automobile was the 1900 Oldsmobile. After the production of the Oldsmobile, the automobile soared in popularity. However, as seen in the image below, the 1900 Oldsmobile still closely resembled the horse-drawn carriage.

1900 Oldsmobile

1900 Oldsmobile: Image courtesy of Philip Van Doren Stern, A Pictorial History of the Automobile, 1953.

It was the founding of the Ford Motor Company in 1903 that ushered in a new era in automobile history. The Ford Model T, often dubbed the "Tin Lizzie," hit the market in 1908 and revolutionized the design and production of the automobile. This widely popular, mass-produced vehicle, seen in the image below, incorporated the latest technology into a simple, relatively inexpensive, durable body.

1908 Ford Model T

1908 Ford Model T: Image courtesy of Philip Van Doren Stern.

Many important design features set the early-20th century automobiles apart from their predecessors and created a vehicle that finally resembled a car, not a carriage. Most notably, the engine was moved from beneath the seat to the front of the car beneath a hood, and the wheel base was lengthened to incorporate larger cylinder engines. A steering wheel replaced the tiller and a tonneau (backseat) was placed behind the driver's seat. In 1905, the tonneau was made accessible by a side entrance. A typical early 20th century vehicle came equipped with three oil lamps (two on the dashboard and one tall one in the rear). Convertible tops, windshields, headlamps, and speedometers were extra. The automobile in the image below is typical of an early-20th century vehicle. Note the front hood, which is angular in shape, the tonneau with side door, steering wheel, oil lamps on the dashboard, and canopy folded in the rear.

Typical Early 20<sup>th</sup> Century Automobile

Typical Early 20th Century Automobile: Image courtesy of Philip Van Doren Stern

Three types of canopy tops were popular in the early 20th century: the fixed top, seen in the image below; the cape top, which only protected the tonneau (backseat); and the one-man canopy top, seen in the image of the Model T above.

Fixed Canopy Top

Fixed Canopy Top: Image courtesy of Philip Van Doren Stern.

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