From 1915 to 1916 the number of cars and trucks registered in the U.S. jumped from 2.4 million to 3.6 million. In addition, a few hundred thousand vehicles travelled roads across Canada, France, Britain, and the rest of the world. Perhaps an insignificant number compared with the quarter billion registered today in the U.S. alone, but the motor vehicle had already transformed society.

Reliable motor vehicles carried people and goods for work, leisure and armies in the field (a major consideration while the Great War was raging in Europe and elsewhere). Cars and trucks, components for these vehicles, and fuel were the basis of huge, rapidly expanding manufacturing and distribution industries. Roads, until now only for slow-moving carts, started turning into modern highways: the Lincoln Highway, first opened in 1913, was the first road to go coast-to-coast, even though it was still a dirt road in places.

These slides are a short dash through the state of the art in 1916. For a more leisurely drive through the byways of history, see the Scientific American Archive at