Motor Vehicles Change the World, 1915
Better reliability made cars, trucks and other vehicles more useful and ubiquitous
Oldsmobile was famous for winning a race in 1905 against a 20th-Century Limited railway train. This advertisement from 1915 used the same artist and the same “It Sets the Pace” slogan, but with an updated car. Credits: Image: Scientific American, March 6, 1915
Fill 'er up, 1915: Automotive technology went hand-in-hand with advances in industrial-scale gas (petroleum) production and distribution.
Image: Scientific American, January 2, 1915
Fuel Truck: This German army tanker truck on a Benz chassis carried fuel, oil and water for all kinds of motor vehicles during World War I.
Image: Scientific American Supplement, February 20, 1915
Selling Speed: Oldsmobile was famous for winning a race in 1905 against a 20th-Century Limited railway train. This advertisement from 1915 used the same artist and the same “It Sets the Pace” slogan, but with an updated car.
Image: Scientific American, March 6, 1915
Farm Truck: A corrugated wheel design from 1915 may have helped minimize damage to hard roads and maximize traction on the soft ground of fields “when hauling ploughs and other farm machinery.”
Image: Scientific American, October 16, 1915 Advertisement
Hauling Logs: This gasoline-powered, seven-ton tractor at work in 1915 in the snow near Brewer, Maine, was repaired after it broke through ice and sank 50 feet into a lake. The driver apparently drowned.
Image: Scientific American, May 29, 1915
Selling Precision: This 1915 advertisement for Studebaker (the company produced cars from 1902 to 1966) emphasized the quality and reliability of their engineering and manufacturing.
Image: Scientific American, April 3, 1915
Cadillac “Eight”: This eight-cylinder engine from 1915 by Cadillac (the company is still in business) was compact and reduced the need for a long bonnet. The engine is mounted on a demonstration chassis.
Image: Scientific American, July 3, 1915
Armored Car: This Belgian armored car (probably made by Minerva) from World War I carries what looks to be a 37-millimeter cannon. Early armored cars had a motley array of designs, weapons, maintenance needs and abilities, but they were occasionally useful.
Image: Scientific American Supplement, May 1, 1915 Advertisement
Military Tractors: This tractor was used for hauling supplies for an army at war. It was an “enormous gasoline-propelled machine....It has been used by the German army for the transportation of heavy guns and trains of supply wagons.”
Image: Scientific American, May 29, 1915
Military Truck: Early in the Great War the British army (and most armies) bought and used commercial vehicles that worked well enough for military use. This truck carrying supplies may be a 3-ton lorry (truck) made by Albion Motors in Scotland.
Image: Scientific American, November 6, 1915 Advertisement
The science and technology of motor vehicles made small advances during the year, but the landscape, especially in America, was changing in response. As the internal combustion engine became more reliable and easier to operate, the vehicles built around these engines became more useful. The desire for reliability, compact power, and ease and quality of manufacturing pushed the technology forward relentlessly. Along with the expanding sales of motor vehicles came an explosive growth in facilities for manufacturing and selling them, and supplying them with spare parts, fuel and oil. As the expanding World War engulfed more people and resources, efficient motor vehicles supplanted horse-drawn vehicles for the task of supplying the increasingly vast quantities of food, ammunition and other needs of nations in arms. But motor vehicles were certainly more than utilitarian: there were also motorbikes for fun rides and race cars for fans.
For more articles on the history of the motor vehicle, take a drive through the Scientific American Archive at
This article was originally published with the title "50, 100 & 150 Years Ago"
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