Imagine your excitement. It is 1925 and your family has just decided that they have put aside enough money to buy a car. Just imagine, a car! Only a few years ago the thought would have been ridiculous, they were too expensive. During the war hardly anybody had one. You had to be rich. Things are better now though and there are big car companies, especially in America, who can make thousands of them in a year. They're still expensive of course, a big investment, but wow - a car!
When I took this car brochure for "The New Model Rugby Four: America's Wonder Car" to show the children their reaction was really quite funny. Many of them know that a Pound (English money as they say) is worth about 2 times as much as the Australian dollar, so knew that even the most luxurious of the cars advertised, at 325 pounds only cost about 650 dollars. At that price, they said, 'even I could afford one!' They were really quite disappointed when I explained that, in the 1920's when this brochure was new, 325 pounds was a lot of money - the average Australian worker only earned 9 pounds, 30 shillings a week. So the children realised they probably couldn't afford one after all. They were also surprised to learn that tyres filled with air were a new luxury. "Aren't all tyres full of air?" They might be today, but it wasn't always the case - originally they were solid.
Cars, or automobiles as they are also known, have a long and complex history. They were not invented by any one person and in fact many believe there are over 100,000 patents associated with their creation and evolution! By definition, an automobile is any moving vehicle which carries its own engine, so according to this the first cars were steam driven. The first of these was built by Nicolas Joseph Cugnot in 1769 and was used by the French military. Unfortunately for him, he drove one of his steam powered automobiles into a wall (also making him the first person to be in a motor vehicle accident!) and this was the beginning of a lot of bad luck and he eventually ran out of money to continue his experiments. There were many others who experimented with steam powered automobiles, but the next big innovation in car construction was electricity and between 1832 and 1839 (nobody knows exactly when) Robert Anderson invented the first electric driven carriage. Such electric vehicles worked by charging batteries and using these to run a small engine. They were big, heavy, expensive and had to stop for a recharge regularly, so although they existed, they didn't really catch on, though electricity continued to be used for powering trams and electric trains. Funny isn't it that we are just now using electricity to power cars again after more than a century!
The big break in the car industry came when gas (petrol) powered cars were invented. The first design for a car powered with gas was created in 1807 by Francois Isaac de Rivaz, but his design wasn't very good and it didn't catch on. In 1824 Samuel Brown adapted a steam engine to burn fuel and used it for a while, but again it didn't catch on. There were many more people who gave it a go, including Jean Joseph Étienne Lenoir who even managed to make a gas powered vehicle which completed a 50 mile trip. Others patented designs but never built them, or built engines and cars but failed to truly make a go of it. The big invention came in 1876 when Nikolaus August Otto invented a successful 4 stroke engine which he then built into a motorcycle. His engine design was pivotal and was used widely as the car began to evolve. Ten years later, in 1886 Karl Benz received a patent for the first gas-powered car. The car and its engine were improved upon, changed and redesigned and by 1900 it was commercially available to be bought from various manufacturers. It was very expensive though and many people could not afford a car. It wasn't until around about 1914 that Henry Ford improved the assembly line manufacture of cars. More cars could be built using less money and slowly, this made it possible for more people to own a car. If you would like to learn more about the history of cars, click here.
The Rugby model car, which is advertised in the brochure I showed the children, was made by Durant and the original of the car, the Star Car, was produced to compete with the Model T Ford. The name of the Star Car was changed to Rugby because when the company tried to export it outside America and Canada they discovered the Star name was owned by somebody else in Britain. Thus the car was renamed the Rugby for external markets, including Australia where the brochure I showed the children was produced. If you would like to learn more about the Rugby cars, click here.