In the first 16 years of the twentieth century, car ownership in Texas went from less than 200 to over 125,000. Nationwide, the number zoomed to well over 3 million.The car went from being an indulgence of the rich to within the grasp of the average American.
Still, in those early years, it wasn’t easy to tour the country in a car. Roads were horrible and gas stations were rare. Roadside motels didn’t exist and restaurants were few and far between. But the American people wanted to go and it was only a matter of time before the country caught up.
After World War I—and after investment from federal and local governments in road construction—hotels, tourist courts, gas stations, and restaurants sprang up, causing a boom in auto-based tourist travel. In a sort of chicken-and-egg phenomenon, the increase in car ownership led to better roads, which led to more tourist-friendly places to stay, eat, and fill up with gas, which led to more tourism in cars, which led to better roads.
After the Second World War, soldiers came home from overseas and went back to work. Soon, they loaded their growing families in their shiny new cars and took off to see more of their own country. Tourism boomed again, with motels, service stations, restaurants, and tourist courts popping up like mushrooms along the Bankhead Highway.
As America’s car culture evolved, so did our buildings. Homes now need garages or carports. The places we eat, sleep and shop need vast parking lots. Roadside signs are larger, so we can see them at higher speeds, and billboard advertising became as common as… well…Texas wildflowers.
We didn’t just change the roads; we changed the world!