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U.S. Census Bureau History: The American Automobile Industry

Duryea Motor Wagon
J. Frank Duryea and his brother Charles [pictured] founded
the Duryea Motor Wagon Company in 1895,
in Springfield, MA.
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

When the Ford Motor Company introduced the Model T on October 1, 1908, Detroit, MI, was already a bustling hub for automobile development with factories producing sleek new Detroit Electrics, Cadillacs, Hudsons, and Oldsmobiles. Michigan's "Motor City" did not have a monopoly on automobile manufacturing, though, as many legendary automobiles called other states home. For example, Indianapolis, IN, was home to Duesenberg, Stuz, and Marmon, and Auburns were manufactured in their namesake, Auburn, IN. Metz and Orient automobiles were built in Waltham, MA, and Connecticut factories produced the Locomobile in Bridgeport and Mercer in New Britain.

Although factory workers are no longer manufacturing Mercers and Duesenbergs, the automobile manufacturing and sales employed nearly 4 million people in August 2014. Some of these employees were responsible for building Teslas in Fremont, CA, Nissans in Smyrna, TN, and Cadillacs in Arlington, TX. In 2012, the total value of shipments for the automobile manufacturing industry was $108.8 billion, up 28.4 percent from 2007, and more than 3,000 percent since the first Model T rolled out of Ford's Piquette Avenue factory in 1908 [PDF 139KB].

  • In 1908, when the Ford Motor Company began selling the Model T, there were 197,500 [PDF 139KB] autombiles registered in the United States.
  • On October 31, 1913, automotive entrepreneur Carl G. Fisher and the Lincoln Highway Association dedicated the Lincoln Highway, the first coast-to-coast road linking New York City to San Francisco. The 1913 route was 3,389 miles, of which less than half consisted of paved or compacted surfaces. Today, 246 million [PDF 62.5] motor vehicles travel more than 2.9 trillion [PDF 66.1KB] miles over the nation's 47,714 miles of interstate highways.
  • Ford introduced the Model A to replace the Model T on October 21, 1927. In that year, the number of registered automobiles had grown to 23,127,315 [PDF 139KB].
  • Several automotive visionaries, daredevils, and entrepreneurs were born in October: John Dodge, cofounder of the Dodge Brothers Company, was born October 25, 1864, in Niles, MI; J. Frank Duryea founder of the first American manufacturer of gasoline-powered automobiles, was born October 8, 1870, in Canton, OH; John Willys of the Willys-Overland Motor Company was born October 25, 1873, in Candadaigua, NY; Racing star and World War I ace Eddie Rickenbacker was born October 8, 1890, in Columbus, OH; and Lee Iacocca, responsible for the Ford Mustang, Ford Pinto, and later Chief Executive Officer of Chrysler was born October 15, 1924, in Allentown, PA.
  • On October 1, 1954, the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, MI, and Studebaker Corporation of South Bend, IN, merged to form the Studebaker-Packard Corporation. Having dropped "Packard" from its nameplate in 1962, the company produced it's last Studebaker in March 1966, in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
  • On October 5, 1956, the Dinah Shore Chevy Show premiered. The television show's theme, "See the U.S.A. In Your Chevrolet," Link to a non-federal Web site encouraged the nation's 77,658,826 [PDF 379KB] licensed drivers to buy a new Chevrolet. By years end, 5,816,000 [PDF 379KB] new vehicles were purchased and 64,383,000 [PDF 379KB] privately owned automobiles were registered in the United States.
  • The 2007-2009 "Great Recession" significantly impacted the American automobile industry as sales of new vehicles dropped from 16,230,00 [PDF 54.3KB] in 2007 to 10,550,000 [PDF 54.3KB] in 2009. Automobile manufacturers were forced to reduce the number of makes and models produced. As a result, the last Saturn automobile was manufactured in Springhill, TN, on October 7, 2009, and Pontiac dealer franchise agreements expired on October 31, 2010, after production ceased in 2009.
  • Encouraging data from the 2012 Economic Census indicates that the auto industry is recovering from the "Great Recession." Total value of automobile shipments increased 28.4 percent when compared to 2007 census data. Although light truck and utility manufacturing decreased 20.7 percent, shipments for heavy duty trucks grew by 51.9 percent!

Model T in the Mud
When the Ford Model T was introduced in October 1908, 93 percent of the nation's
2.2 million miles [PDF 96.2KB] of public roads were dirt. Even though 7 percent of
the nation's public roads were paved, driving in the rain generally carried a
100 percent chance of getting stuck!
Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

Automotive History On Display

From Appersons to ZiLs, automotive history is on display in Hershey, PA, when the Antique Automobile Collectors Association hosts its 2014 Fall Meet Link to a non-federal Web site October 8-11, 2014. This annual event is considered one of the largest antique car shows and flea markets in the United States.

Did You Know?

On October 13, 1904, approximately 50,000 spectators watched George Heath Link to a non-federal Web site win the innaugural Vanderbilt Cup Race after achieving an average speed of 52.6 mph on the 284.4 mile course in Nassau County, NY. Auto racing has grown considerably in the 110 years since Heath's victory, with approximately 4.4 million [PDF 61.9KB] people attending NASCAR or other automobile races in 2009.

Vanderbilt Cup Trophy
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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Census History Staff | Last Revised: September 30, 2014