Motor Vehicles, 1914 [Slide Show]
A look at the machines that moved us a century ago
The Cheapest Cars: “Cyclecars” were powered by motorbike engines, were cheaply made and very small. The niche for such cheap, small cars is today filled by microcars such as bubble cars and the Ford Smart Fortwo. Credits: Image: Scientific American, August 1, 1914
Motor Industry: Color cover wrap of the 16th annual “Motor Number,” a look at the developments in various motor vehicle industries. The image is not of a specific scene but based on the idea of American exports of working locomotives and trucks.
Image: Scientific American, January 3, 1914
Fancy Car: This advertisement for Oldsmobile in 1914, then as now, pushes the idea of the good life in a good car. Driven by a professional chauffeur, of course (notice the peaked cap on the driver).
Image: Scientific American, February 14, 1914
Motorbike Sleigh: Galt, Ontario, Canada, gets a lot of snow. One inventor figured out a way to drive over the snow with this motorcycle and sidecar combination sporting runners instead of front and side wheels.
Image: Scientific American, Marc 28, 1914
Electric Start Motorbike: This model of Indian Motorcycle from the Hendee Manufacturing Company was the first motorbike to have an electric starter. The battery didn’t work so well, so the electric starter was pulled from the market and the company went back to a manual start.
Image: Scientific American, February 7, 1914 Advertisement
Motorbike Fire Engine: In Oklahoma City this motorbike was equipped with two chemical fire-extinguishers. It made for a cheap and fast fire engine (for smaller fires, I assume).
Image: Scientific American, April 4, 1914
Motor Machines: This 30-spindle drill is making holes in two crankcases simultaneously. Machine tools for mass-producing cars were just as important then as they are now, but most of the attention focused on the final product as it rolled into the dealer showrooms.
Image: Scientific American Supplement, April 25, 1914
The Cheapest Cars:
“Cyclecars” were powered by motorbike engines, were cheaply made and very small. The niche for such cheap, small cars is today filled by microcars such as bubble cars and the Ford Smart Fortwo. Image: Scientific American, August 1, 1914
Auto Testing: The testing laboratory of the Automobile Club of France at Neuilly-sur-Seine, near Paris, examined every aspect of a variety of internal-combustion engines. Our photograph from 1914 shows the testing of a pump for moving water (for instance, for draining boats).
Image: Scientific American Supplement, February 21, 1914 Advertisement
Unicycle: The idea of a single-wheel vehicle with the driver in the center was at least 20 years old in 1914. This new twist, though, is driven by an aircraft propeller. It looks like it would have been lethal to everyone else on the road.
Image: November 21, 1914
Cars for Thrills: Special effects for a show at the New York Hippodrome theater. A specially-made (motorless) car hurtled down a track, somersaulted and landed upside-down in a huge water tank (acting as the Colorado River). The actors tried to land in the water but not underneath the car.
Image: Scientific American, February 28, 1914 Advertisement
The American industry of motor manufacture by 1914 had taken root in every part of society. Leisure, consumer, commercial, high technology, mass-production, the business was dedicated to production and sales of anything that moved people and goods for whatever reason.
The industry, then as now, was a huge part of the industrial and social landscape. The 16th Annual Motor Number from January 3, 1914, listed 150 gasoline truck manufacturers, 20 electric truck makers, 320 gasoline motor car models and 60 electric car models. We might recognize the name of Mack trucks (founded in Brooklyn, New York City) or the Cadillac Motor Car company of Detroit, possibly even Studebaker or DeSoto, but it is likely few people are familiar with the Fritchle Automobile and Battery Co., in Denver, or the Lyons Atlas Co. in Indianapolis. Although almost all of those manufacturers and their products have vanished, they still stand as a testament to how people added to and used the energy and creativity of a young industry.
For more articles on the history of all aspects of the American motor vehicle, take a drive through the Scientific American Archive at
ALSO, see the slide show on “The Motor Vehicle in 1913”
This article was originally published with the title "50, 100 & 150 Years Ago"
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