Driving at night was not a usual practice, but one enthusiast contributed a special article on midnight motoring to the October, 1907, issue of Country Life. He painted a glowing picture -- the darkness pierced by the flaming arrow of the acetylene headlight, the road opening up like a titanic ribbon spun solely for the motorist's pleasure, the muffled roar of the motor in the deep silence of the night. It was a wonderful sensation as, with hands gripping the seats, hair blown back by the rushing wind, the car plunged "into that big mysterious dark always just ahead, always just beyond reach." One word of warning was given about night running. Should a carriage be encountered, the motorist should be ready to stop at once and attempt to calm the frightened horses by throwing his lap-robe (an essential article of equipment) over the headlights.
Suggestions for driving advised care not only for the safety of the highway, but to combat the prejudice that the automobile still aroused among non-motorists. The horn should be used gingerly because a sudden squeeze was frightening to both horses and pedestrians; headlights should be blown out on city streets; persons having trouble with their horses should be treated courteously, "especially ladies who are apt to be rather helpless in such cases." A final injunction urged special consideration for pedestrians. If they were forced to dodge a speeding car, they were very apt to describe it later, to the ill repute of all motoring, as "one of those (adjective) automobiles."
By 1914 the motor car had passed well beyond this pioneer stage. There were some two million in the country, and mass production was enabling the manufacturer to turn out cars that could be purchased for as little as $400. More important, the automobile had been so greatly improved that constant breakdowns were no longer the invariable rule of the road, and it was possible to operate a car without the prohibitive expenses of earlier days. Roads also were becoming immeasurably better. An advertisement of one second-hand car gave as the reason for sale that its owner had motored from Illinois and could not return because of bad roads, but the constant pressure of motorists was beginning to take effect in improved highways, macadam and even concrete, throughout the country.
Henry Ford had played a leading part in making the automobile more easily available to a broader public. His Model T was the most familiar of all makes, with half a million of them on the road before the World War. Hundreds of "tin Lizzie" jokes showed the place they had won in the country's life. Do you know what Ford is doing now? was a question the wary learned to ignore. But the answers were legion: enclosing a can-opener with every car so the purchaser could cut out his own doors; painting his cars yellow so that dealers could hang them in bunches and retail them like bananas; providing squirrels to retrieve any nuts that might rattle off. . . . Another story was that of the Illinois farmer who stripped the tin roof off his barn, sent it to the Ford factory, and received a letter saying that "while your car was an exceptionally bad wreck, we shall be able to complete repairs and return it by the first of the week."
The ubiquity of the Ford, as well as of the Ford joke, clearly indicated that the automobile had completely passed through that stage when it could be considered a plaything for the rich or an instigator of socialism. It was reaching the American public -- the workingman and the farmer. And throughout the period of the World War this general process of diffusion went on at an increasingly rapid rate. The two million cars of 1914 had become nine million by 1921. In another five years this number had doubled. So great was public interest in the automobile that when Ford brought out a new car in 1927, the formal unveiling of the Model A attracted almost as much attention as a presidential inauguration. Thousands flocked to the Ford show-rooms in Detroit, the mounted police had to be called out in Cleveland, a mob stormed the exhibition at Kansas City, and a million people fought to get a glimpse of the new car at the Ford headquarters in New York.
Succeeding years saw a still further increase in the number of passenger cars on the road. In the 1930's the total rose to over twenty-five million -- an automobile for more than two-thirds of the families throughout the country. Such far-reaching improvements had been made that there was now almost no resemblance to the horseless carriage of forty years earlier. The modern car was long and low, showing a definite trend toward stream-lining, and the closed sedan had almost entirely replaced the open touring-car. It could be operated easily and was as nearly foolproof as human ingenuity could make it. It was equipped with such an array of conveniences -- from self-starters to heaters -- that one could motor with a degree of comfort the pioneer automobilists could not possibly have imagined. Winter motoring -- certainly for short trips -- was almost as feasible as summer outings. Should anything go wrong, the uniformity of popular models made repairs comparatively easy, but motorists could count so definitely on the dependability of their cars that they hardly knew what was under the hood. It was seldom necessary even to change tires, so greatly had their durability and potential mileage been increased. Everyone could drive a car, and every one did. In the 1890's the tremendous vogue for the bicycle had given the impression that America was a nation on wheels. Half a century later this appeared to be even more true -- but on automobile wheels.