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America's Automobile Culture

Mark S. FosterÆs A Nation on Wheels: The Automobile Culture in America Since 1945, examines the impact the automobile has had on American life. His thesis is that the automobile has been a powerful and aggressive shaper of American culture. Although the book is only 213 pages long, Foster covers many elements and issues relating to AmericaÆs automobile culture; these include car design and production, automobile ownership, the impact of the automobile on mass transit systems and on the environment, the automobileÆs relationship to youth culture, various industries that developed as a result of widespread use of cars, and how the automobile revolutionized the American way of life. This paper will summarize some of FosterÆs main points and theories, and then present a critique of the book.

The book is divided into nine chapters, plus a preface and index. Foster begins with the historical development of the automobile. He claims that although the car culture did not reach its maturity until after World War II, the political, economic and social frameworks affecting it were in place before the war (2). He suggests that Americans were always looking to expand their horizons, including vacationing, traveling and moving. Although trolleys, bicycles, horse and buggies and ships provided the means of travel, roads were poor and people could not travel far. Machine-powered devices that could move great distances were envisioned by many people, and eventually railroad technology was developed and a limited number of cars for sport or racing. Foster holds that automobile races in many parts of the country prior to World War I ôbrought automobility into the consciousness of millions of Americansö (4). He examines the relationship between the development of the internal combustion engine and the petroleum industry. Once petroleum reserves were discovered, gasoline supplies were cheap and abundant. Inventors like Henry Ford believed that ...

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America's Automobile Culture. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 15:41, May 20, 2019, from