It is argued that the first car America had ever seen was built by Oliver Evans in 1805; one that could not only travel by land, but by water as well, having both regular and paddle wheels. While this is widely debated, the automotive boom that would soon follow was a true mark in American history.
Receiving a patent for his vehicle in 1789, Evans’ amphibious vehicle was a technological breakthrough. But, scholars and historians have debated whether or not its methods of transportation merited it as an actual car. Others have declared Duryea automobile to be the first American car. Built by the Duryea Motor Wagon Company in 1893, this vehicle was first debuted in Massachusetts, and was followed by the company’s Ladies Phaeton; a one-cylinder, open-air, gas powered car.
While not yet commercialized, more Duryea vehicles began to emerge in the 1890s, with cofounder Frank Duryea winning the Chicago Times-Herald Race in 1895, operating one of his very own cars. Proving their worth, Duryea then went public and commercialized production shortly after. This is what many historians credit as the first American car.
By 1902, Oldsmobile started making a name for itself, having first been established in Detroit, Michigan in 1897. Remarkably, this car company was able to produce roughly 425 cars a year for $650 each. Their large-scale production was able to essentially take over the automobile marketplace.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Henry Ford Motor Company; a staple in American automobiles. Their first car ever built was the Model A. However, in 1901, the company’s name would change to Cadillac Motor Company, and subsequently be purchased by General Motors in 1909, but before then came the Model T, which would go on to sell over 10,000 models in its first year (1908).
With all of these vehicles being operated via the use of a hand crank, the Charles Kettering electric starter emerged in 1912 to simplify this technology. Not long afterward, the Ford Motor Company created the first ever assembly line; an enormous breakthrough in the automotive industry. Within this structure, each worker in the factory was given a single task to improve accuracy and efficiency. Previously, the standard business model involved multiple tasks being completed by single workers.
With the introduction of the assembly line, automobile productions skyrocketed. The plant in Highland Park, Michigan for example, was able to produce 300,000 cars in 1914. Because of this, Ford was able to lower the price of the Model T every single year for the next 14 years, making it much more affordable for the middle class.