The Automotive Industry in 1923

The October 1923 National Geographic issue gave an overview of the automotive industry. Looking back, it’s great to note the nation’s progress over the first quarter century of the industry.

In 1898, there was one car in operation for every 18,000 people. In October 1923, there was one motor vehicle to every 8 people. In 1909, we had less than 300,000 motor vehicles in commission, and the national income amounted to less than 29 billion dollars. In 1923, with 13 million registered vehicles, the national income was around 60 billion dollars.

Eleven out of every 13 motor vehicles in the world were being operated on American roads, and twelve out of every 13 produced in a given period were Yankee-made.

Overland Park Camp 1923
Overland Park Camp 1923
Copyright National Geographic

Gas consumption by the motor cars of the country would exceed 6 billion gallons that year. The average driver was able to coax 15 miles out of each gallon of gas he put into his tank.

More new cars were called into commission in 1923 than were built from the birth of the industry up to the end of 1915. Available figures indicate that the total car sales for the year approximated 5 million, including 2 million used vehicles. This means that one family out of every four in the country annually figures in an automobile transaction.

Seventy percent of cars being sold were bought on the deferred-payment plan. Every $50 reduction in selling price opened up a new field of a million prospects. The deferred-payment plan also widened the auto market.

Typical Assembly Line 1923
Typical Assembly Line 1923
Copyright National Geographic

The American tribute to the automotive engineer’s genius has made his industry the third largest in the United States. The automotive vehicle manufacturer has become the largest producer of finished goods in the world.

The Studebaker South Bend plant, for instance, spent $3,000,000 for a new foundry. This would pay for itself in the economies of a comparatively short time.

Another example of innovation was provided by the Army Quartermaster’s Department at Camp Holabird, under the direction of Arthur W. Herrington, later associated with Marmon-Herrington. The department developrd a four-wheel drive truck with oversize pneumatic tires. This truck was touted as going almost anywhere that caterpillar tractors could go, and some places that they could not, in cross-country work and on wet clay roads.

The automotive industry progressed along way over its first quarter century. Just think of all the progress we’ve made in the past 93 years.

For more information on our automotive heritage, follow this link.

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