I know this is an unpatriotic subject to be posing so close on the heels of all the noise about independence and how great it was that President Obama bailed out the auto industry, but I see it as my duty to share information that makes me go wow, really?
Here it is: In the early days of cars, we Americans wisely thought them a dangerous innovation to be restricted.
In a sort-of recent article in Scientific American — “Why America’s Love Affair with Cars Is No Accident” — Jeremy Hsu and InnovationNewsDaily report that the auto industry campaigned tirelessly to muscle people and everything else off the streets so the car could rule.
Hmm. It's worth reading the article, but the comments afterward are really good. As much as I would love to villify the people who put this nation on its trajectory of oil dependency, it's more complicated than that.
The article puts out there some interesting fodder for discussion, though.
Interesting fact: Big Auto coined the term “jaywalker,” the article reports, as “a reference to the idea of jaybirds as loud idiots and to make fun of pedestrians walking in the street as being stuck in the past.”
The industry had to fight the prevailing, sensible attitudes of people, including Cincinnatians who the article says “even pushed for a 1923 law requiring all cars to have a mechanism limiting their speed to no higher than 25 mph, but car makers gathered enough support to defeat it.
The automobile industry eventually began waging a psychological campaign to get pedestrians out of the streets."
Quoting Peter Norton, a historian of technology at the University of Virginia, the article reports that “schools helped train new generations of children to avoid the streets when the American Automobile Association (AAA) became the top supplier of safety curriculum for U.S. schools in the 1920s. The AAA also spread the idea of school safety patrols to help keep kids out of the street.
“The popular phrase “America’s love affair with the automobile” eventually came along in a TV show called “Merrily We Roll Along” as part of the DuPont Series of the Week in 1961 — a time when DuPont owned a large percent of stock in General Motors."
What this makes me wonder is whether there is a fortune to be made in taking back the streets and putting the car where it belongs — in distant fourth place behind walkers, bicyclists and vehicles of mass transit.
If there were, we'd be about due for another psychological campaign for the hearts and minds of America.