From the Curator
How the Motor Car Changed the Way We Lived
In 1919, The Hudson Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan introduced their companion car, the Essex, a low-priced closed car or sedan. The Essex was a popular car featuring a 4 cylinder "F" head engine and a closed body selling for about $100. more than a touring car. It was a bargain.
The closed body sold for about $800. and changed the way people lived. It made the car a year-round vehicle, giving passengers more comfort. By 1923, the sedan or closed car had become the best seller. However, in some areas of the country, roads were so bad or nonexistent that the automobile was stored during the bad months or winter.
Henry Ford introduced the $5.00 day for his employees. This increased his labor pool and forced other manufacturers to pay their employees more. In turn, this gave the working man more money to buy his own car, increasing production. Ford was the sales leader.
The automobile also changed the way the farmer lived. In 1900 the average citizen rarely or never went more than 40 miles from home during their lifetime. The automobile changed that.
The truck was a boon to the farmer
For instance, in our area (Madison County, Virginia) the journey to the country store or feed mill was approximately four hours round-trip by wagon for the average farmer.
The automobile permitted him to travel further and faster, so he went to town and no longer dealt with the little local country store as he preferred to go to the city that offered more choices and better prices.
At the time, it was common practice to herd your sheep, cattle, hogs, turkeys, etc. on the public road, through the town to the railroad stock pens. The truck changed all this.
For example, as late as the 1920s, the farmers at Graves Mill, Va. would put apples in barrels along with salt, pork and nuts, etc. and caravan to the rail depot at Somerset. This is about 25 miles, and at 3 mph, it was slow travel. It would take a day to get there, a day of loading and a day home - a total of at least three days, if you didn't have any trouble.
In 1910 it took a good man with a horse and buggy five days to travel to Washington DC and five days to return home, in good weather. The early automobile in the 1920s could do it in a day. Now you can drive it in about two hours.
In 1928 Virginia passed a law requiring all vehicles operated at night to have electric lights - no more kerosene or gas lights were allowed. This helped to make the automobile and truck a 24-hour vehicle, and more useful. That same year, Charlottesville, Virginia had paved roads which extended eight miles north of town. Then Virginia passed a law requiring trucks and cars to have pneumatic tires and the day of the solid rubber tire was over. Cars and trucks traveled faster and better.
Better access to education
In the teens and 1920s, schools were primitive, often one room. Schools were located where most of the county residents lived and no transportation was provided. On a normal day you might see three school children on a horse going to school and most children walked.
Schools were segregated and many black children never attended school. If you lived at Hood (in Southwest Madison County) there was a black school located in the field at the rear of Leroy Hood’s home. This school was later moved to a location near the African-American church, Rock Hall Baptist Church at Wolftown, about two miles away. Another black school was at the village of Uno, about 15 miles East. It is remembered that John Toliver, an African-American, provided transportation for black students using his fancy surrey with a fringe-on-top.
There was no black High School in Madison County. Instead, the county paid tuition to the Town of Orange, in nearby Orange County, for black students to attend their black High School. This required some transportation as Orange is about 15 miles from the Town of Madison, the county seat.
In one-room school houses, two or three teachers taught classes. They averaged two grades per teacher. Grade school went for seven grades and High School went to the 11th grade. There was no twelfth grade.
Crude school buses arrive in the 1930s and allowed more children the opportunity to receive a public education.
Things have changed...
By John Dudley
Owner & Curator
Roaring Twenties Antique Car Museum copyr. 2000 - 2010