Who were the primary customers buying up the automobiles steadily decreasing in cost during the 20th century? Was it rural people replacing horses with vehicles? Would it have been inner city people who may have never owned a horse but decided to get a car anyways? Or was it some sort of early budding middle class suburbia families who may or may not have owned a horse but still required a degree of decent transportation?

I ask this because it still seems boggling that vehicles would have boomed in popularity during the early 20th century without modern road infrastructure and their high costs, as well as various inefficiencies (compared to a horse), and dirtiness (exhaust, etc.).

  • 1
    Are you only considering consumer customers, or are you considering business customers as well? Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 18:34
  • @called2voyage Any and all customers.
    – JKhawaja
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 18:44
  • You may gain insight be examining adverts: vintageadbrowser.com/cars-ads-1910s
    – AllInOne
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 18:49
  • 1
    @AllInOne Adverts will give you insight on consumer demographics, but will not usually give any insight on business customers. Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 19:01
  • 4
    The last point I can address: Cars were considered very clean compared to horses. Horse Pollution was a serious problem for cities, most of which had to pay lots of people full-time to clean up all the droppings and cart them away.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Oct 25, 2016 at 20:00

2 Answers 2


Working Class People, including his assembly line workers. The cost of the car had dropped from $850 - $340 from 1908 - 1920's. 1920's Ford introduced easily obtainable financing with an installment payment plans.

In 1914, Henry Ford announced that it would pay workers a minimum wage of $5 a day. This was more than double the average for the automobile industry. He simultaneously reduced the working day from nine hours to eight, operating the factory 24-hours-a-day with a three-shift system. His factory in 1914 employed 13,000 workers.

In 1920 the male workforce ages 10 and over gainfully employed was 78 million. See U.S. Census page #60. Between 1913 and 1927, Ford factories produced more than 15 million Model Ts. By 1927 the company was turning out a Model T every 24 seconds.

The term of 'Fordism' emerged as "a manufacturing system designed to spew out standardized, low-cost goods and afford its workers decent enough wages to buy them".

My research showed you can still find Model-T's in near original shape for sale for around $10k on the low end. highly modified roadsters are considerable more.

US Census 1928.
American Historama.


The rural population was indeed a significant source of demand for cars. From 1911 to 1920 the number of automobiles owned by farmers increased 21 times, while overall registrations increased 13 times. By 1920, more than a quarter of cars were owned by farmers. Rural doctors were also heavy buyers of cars, as they could serve a wider area, respond to calls more quickly, stay with the patient for longer without having to care for a horse. Rural postmen also used cars, as they could then deliver the goods that people were buying from catalogues.

The Model T in particular promoted rural use. It had high ground clearance, so it could clear the ruts on rural roads. It was powerful, with a top speed of somewhere around 40mph , and if you had a spare can of petrol, you could travel all day. Contrast that with the horse, which travelled at around 8 mph and had to be rested for a long time after around 25 miles.

As has already been mentioned by T.E.D. automobiles were considered to be much cleaner than horses. No manure and urine on the streets, which was a cause of fly-borne disease. The car was also considered to be the answer to congestion in urban areas, as a car took up less than half the roadspace of a horse and carriage. They were certainly convenient for those living in suburbs, away from the routes of the horsecars and streetcars of the day. Cars of course took no resource if you were not using them, whereas horses had to be fed and cared for whether they were ridden or not.

Most of the above comes from a couple of books. There is a chapter ‘Societal Impact of the Industry’ by Timothy F. Messer-Kruse in a book ‘The Industrial Revolution in America: Automobiles’ by Kevin Hillstrom and Laurie Collier Hillstrom. The second book is ‘The Automobile Age’ by James J Flink.

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