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Car Country

An Environmental History

by Christopher W. Wells

Publication Year: 2012

Published by: University of Washington Press


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pp. 1-1

Series Page, Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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Foreword: Far More Than Just a Machine

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pp. ix-xiv

If I were to ask my students who invented the automobile, I suspect their most likely response would be Henry Ford. That answer would be wrong, but wrong for the right reasons. Although there are a number of candidates for the first creator of a road vehicle powered not by animals but by steam or electricity or petroleum, no one person can be...

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pp. xv-xviii

When I first began to work on what ultimately became this book, now nearly a dozen years ago, I had little inkling of just how much its completion would rely on the stunning generosity, support, insight, and assistance of others. I can never hope to repay the debts that I have accrued, but I am more than happy to name names....

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Prologue: A Car of One’s Own

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pp. xix-2

Like many of my friends, I was ecstatic when the long vigil leading up to my sixteenth birthday ended, and I finally—finally!—got my driver’s license. Driving opened a new world of freedom and mobility, particularly after my father bought a new car and gave me his old one: a yellow 1977 Toyota long-bed pickup truck. Despite its flashy white racing...

Part I. Before the Automobile, 1880–1905

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1. Roads and Reformers

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pp. 5-34

Isaac Potter was a man on a mission. By 1891, he and a small but growing group of like-minded reformers had been agitating for a decade to improve what they saw as the deplorable state of American country roads. Their efforts had run into staunch resistance from American farmers, however, who generally regarded the prosperous...

Part II. Dawn of the Motor Age, 1895–1919

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2. Automotive Pioneers

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pp. 37-64

The motor-vehicle industry in the United States rose so quickly into prominence, overcoming such formidable obstacles along the way, that in retrospect its success seems almost to have been foreordained.1 On Thanksgiving Day, 1895, when the Chicago Times-Herald sponsored the country’s first widely publicized motor-vehicle race, only...

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3. Building for Traffic

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pp. 65-104

In nineteenth-century America, the name John L. McAdam was synonymous with the idea of hard-surfaced roads, so much so that improved roads were said to be “macadamized” and roads with stone surfaces were said to be made of “macadam.” The Scottish road expert had gained fame early in the century for building smooth-surfaced...

Photo Gallery One

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pp. 105-122

Part III. Creating Car Country, 1919–1941

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4. Motor-Age Geography

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pp. 125-172

Soaring automobile ownership during the 1920s placed stiff new demands on American roads and streets. Some of those demands challenged basic road technology, prompting road engineers to devise safer, more durable roads. Others challenged the traditional purposes of roads and streets, triggering a host of new ideas about how...

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5. Fueling the Boom

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pp. 173-200

The same swelling car use that spawned a new motor-age geography had environmental repercussions that extended well beyond the emergence of the nation’s first car-dependent landscapes. Among these, soaring car use generated surging demand for gasoline, which had particularly portentous implications for the environment....

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6. The Paths Out of Town

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pp. 201-227

Consider two places. First: It is 1928, and you are suspended midair above Ford’s River Rouge factory on the edge of Dearborn, Michigan. It spreads before you, a vast complex of buildings—more than you can easily count—and bristles with belching smokestacks. A dense network of tracks interlaces the facility, which is built tight...

Photo Gallery Two

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pp. 228-250

Part IV. New Patterns, New Standards, New Landscapes, 1940–1960

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7. Suburban Nation

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pp. 253-288

When World War II ended, the first car-dependent landscapes were already creeping across the United States. Especially in outlying rural locations where small neighborhood institutions had disappeared and in suburban areas that lacked public transportation, cars had become a necessary and important part of many people’s lives....

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Epilogue: Reaching for the Car Keys

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pp. 289-296

After 1956, Car Country quickly became the nation’s signature landscape: sprawling, single-use, low-density, and bound together by an overwhelmingly car-oriented transportation system. Remaking the nation as Car Country has had its benefits. It has made it dramatically easier to drive, for example, helping expand homeownership to...


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pp. 297-378

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 379-412


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pp. 413-427

Further Reading

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pp. 428-430

E-ISBN-13: 9780295804477
E-ISBN-10: 0295804475
Print-ISBN-13: 9780295992150
Print-ISBN-10: 0295992158

Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 837527757
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Car Country

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Automobiles -- Environmental aspects -- United States -- History.
  • Automobiles -- Social aspects -- United States -- History.
  • Transportation, Automotive -- United States -- History.
  • Urban transportation -- United States -- History.
  • City planning -- United States -- History.
  • Land use -- United States -- History.
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