In his latest book, Denial, Richard Tedlow provides a wealth of information and insights as he examines a number of especially interesting situation throughout U.S. history. Here’s a composite excerpt:
“The United States in 1900 did not have improved roads…We didn’t have gas stations. Indeed, we didn’t have much gas…We did not have traffic lights or rules of the road…Automobiles were expensive in 1900. No bank would lend you money to buy one. Dealerships would not finance their purchase…The few cars that had been tinkered together by the turn of the century did not have all-weather bodies. Nor did they have headlights…
“What must be kept in mind is that most of us march backward into the future. We see what was. If we are particularly perspicacious, we can see what is. Our true visionaries, however, can imagine what might be. Think of the term ‘horseless carriage.’ The automobile was originally named not for what it was but for what it was not. So people looking at cars in 1900 could reasonably conclude that they would never bed used for commuting regularly to work. You wouldn’t drive when it was dark, raining, or snowing.
“Cars did not have self-starters. You had to crank the engine to get it going, and this could prove dangerous. Indeed, it could be fatal…Many early cars, such as Ford’s own quadricycle, did not have steering wheels. They had tillers instead. What other vehicle has a tiller? A boat. People think in terms if analogy, and it was not terribly outlandish to think of a horseless carriage as a ‘land yacht.’ As a plaything for the rich…”
Here’s where Tedlow’s narrative really gets interesting.
“Bicycle manufacturer Albert A. Pope predicted in 1900 that within a decade there would ‘be more automobiles in use in the large cities of the United States than there are now horses in those cities.’ Both Edison and Pope, however, were predicting that cars would be electric. Edison said this would be possible by the development of an improved storage battery.”
That was 110 years ago.