1919: Model-Ts, gas stations, and Barnstormer Beginnings

A 1919 Model T Ford (at the Henry Ford Museum)

In 1919, there were 104 million people in the United States and 6.8 million cars.When cars were first developed, they were toys for the rich. It wasn’t until 1908 when an affordable car, the Model T, was built. In 1913, the first assembly line helped speed the production of the Model T. A Model T could go 40-45 mph and got fuel economy of 13-21 mpg. The Ford Company offered an astonishingly high wage of $5 a day. Although electric cars were also available in the 1900s, cheap gasoline–and the Model T– edged them out of the market.

E-cars smelled much better than gasoline powered ones, but cost much more and suffered from limited range.

Here’s what a filling station looked like in 1919. Drive-through filling stations first appeared in the US in 1913. Before that, gasoline was purchased at hardware, grocery store, or blacksmith shop stores.


This video of 1919 New York shows a city filled with cars and trolleys. It would be another 20 years before cars replaced horse drawn carriages.

Airplane technology leapt forward during WW1 which was just ending in 1919. WWI saw the first air conflicts during war. Pilots were the new sexy heroes. After the war, ten thousand men had trained to fly.

What does a country do with extra airplanes? Beginning in 1919, the government sold them for a fraction of the cost. Most of these planes were the Curtiss Jennys. Many ex-military bought their own planes and performed stunts and gave rides. Thus began the Barnstormer phenomenon where people paid to watch daring areal performances and get airplane rides. This became a popular entertainment in the Roaring Twenties. There were few restrictions on this entertainment. Anyone who could scrape together the $50 or so to buy a plane and some lessons and who had the nerve to fly and do stunts could get together an act. This was an equal opportunity venture and many wing walkers and dare devils were women and African Americans.

A woman prepares to jump from one plane to another; from http://s15858.pcdn.co/wp-content/uploads/sites/default/files/images/SF-64_0.jpg

img_6044I took this photo at the Henry Ford Museum

Barnstorming was popular from about 1920-1927. It was a brave way to make a living and escape poverty. As airplanes became more common, they became regulated and the dangers and economic mobility of Barnstorming came to an end. The great American road trip, however, was just beginning.

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