What cars were made in 1920

The car

Manfred Grieger

To person

is a PhD historian and honorary professor at the Institute for Economic and Social History of the Georg-August University in Göttingen. [email protected]

Automobiles that have been powered by internal combustion engines for a good 125 years seem to be at a turning point, if not on the verge of decline. [1] Wedged between the demanded traffic turnaround, agreed climate targets and the widespread desire for hedonistic speed hunting, the car is in a tight spot. For the majority of commuting workers, vacationers and residents of non-urban regions, the car is an indispensable means of transport. For others, their own car is a status symbol or a means of expressing their personality, the guarantee and embodiment of individual freedom. To a growing number of residents of urban centers, however, passenger cars now appear to be simply superfluous. Because of the environmentally damaging effects of automobile production and use, some people speak out against the overall automobile system for reasons of reason. Nevertheless, many know their dream car.

Cars are undoubtedly a defining element of German society. The fact that the dominant leading branch of the German economy emerged around the automobile, which contributed not insignificantly to the German export world championship and through good wages and salaries to the prosperity of entire generations, explains the politically outstanding position of the automobile industry. In the following I will trace how the car came to play such a central role in social life that today most are considered to have no alternative. In addition to the close connection between the auto industry, ministerial bureaucracy and politics, the mental charges of the automobile are also to be shown in order to make the existing hardening of an automotive society of the German federal type comprehensible.

Stutter start

The early forms of the automobile could not deny their origins in bicycle and carriage construction. [2] While the three-wheeled velocipede from Carl Benz, created in 1886, borrowed from the bicycle, the name of the four-wheeled motorized carriage built by Gottfried Daimler in the same year revealed the line of tradition in which it stood. [3] The automobile emerged as a revolutionary technical innovation from the combination of an internal combustion engine and a chassis. The economic success of the artisanal and industrial car production was initially extremely limited or even non-existent due to the initially low sales figures. In addition, by the beginning of the 20th century it was still far from clear whether the internal combustion engine would prevail over the steam or electric cars developed in parallel. [4] However, range advantages and greater user-friendliness soon spoke in favor of the combustion engine.

But in the years up to the First World War, hearts by no means flew to the car. Complaints about the smell of the engine or the noise level were one thing, social reservations about the "gentleman drivers" the other, so that their ruthlessness even provoked some to assassinate motorists. [5] The car met a need for distinction, initially desired primarily by nobles and the wealthy, to no longer want to travel on the same train as third-class passengers. The individual car traffic released from the dependence on the departure times of the railroad. The autonomy to be able to start the journey at any time and to drive on roads outside of the laid tracks was combined with individual feelings of freedom.

In order to give the automobile a higher level of acceptance and even to trigger growing interest, automobile associations such as the Allgemeine Deutsche Automobilclub (ADAC) founded in 1903 and, in increasing numbers, the media, beat the drum for the new driving device. Public presentations, trade fairs, trips and, above all, the large number of races or reliability drives were the sprawling subjects of reporting that motor journalists, a genre in journalism that emerged in the late 1890s and exposed to corrupt influences, promised income and influence. [6] Reporting on motorsport, on the numerous new models and brands as well as on the growth successes of the automotive industry - in short: creating an interested public - was a prerequisite for the social assertion of the automobile. The emphasis on horsepower, top speeds, technical features and the heroic role of racing drivers staged as the lion tamer of technology made the automobile appear as an object of modern adventurism in industrial society and as a matter of men in general. Although denoted by the neutral article, the automobile has since had an overly masculine connotation and an expression of juvenile masculinity.

The communication strategy of the automobile companies paid off: Although passenger car distribution remained at a low level until the First World War, a fascination for cars developed. The creative passion of constantly bringing out new models went hand in hand with the founding of several inventor companies, but not necessarily with dynamic market growth. For example, the Coswiga production of Emil Nacke, the first automobile manufacturer in Saxony, had to be discontinued before 1914, and most of the automobile brands from the early phase quickly disappeared. [7]

The industrialization of the war gave commercial vehicle construction strong development and growth impulses between 1914 and 1918, but interrupted the rise of the car industry. After that, automobile companies fled the broken conditions of the domestic economy to export, which even caused a pseudo-bloom after 1920 due to inflation. Other companies, such as BMW, diversified into motorcycle and automobile manufacturing. [8] At the latest during the hyperinflation, however, numerous financially weak manufacturers collapsed.

As part of the concentration process, Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft and Carl Benz & Cie. Merged on July 1, 1926. to Daimler-Benz AG, in the hope of increasing economic returns and bundling their technological innovation potential. [9] The high-performance upper-class vehicles offered under the trademark of the three-pointed star and manufactured in small-scale manual production were particularly popular abroad, as the German automotive industry generally gained notoriety through sporty and luxurious cars. After 1924, Hanomag or Opel resorted to the assembly line production used by Ford in the USA after 1913 for the production of their small cars. [10] However, there was no significant growth in sales to the side, since automobiles were considered a luxury good and received no tax subsidies. Because of the limited sales there was a "misrationalization" that was not entirely untypical for the German automotive industry. [11] Even the largest car manufacturer in terms of numbers, Opel got into financial difficulties, so that General Motors took over the company as part of its internationalization strategy. [12]

The global economic crisis that set in in 1929 continued to affect the automotive companies: By 1932, production had shrunk to a low of 43,448 and the number of new registrations to 41,118. At the height of the crisis, the industry only gave work to 33,000 people. [13] To save the domestic automobile industry, the Saxon state government initiated the merger of the brand manufacturers Horch, Wanderer, Audi and DKW in June 1932 to form Auto-Union AG, which after the restart knew how to use the technological and economic potential as a multi-brand company.

Automobile dictatorship

The symbolic power emanating from the automobile was first used by the tech-savvy National Socialists, who presented themselves as a young movement, for their own cause. Immediately after taking over government power on January 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler, who knew about the visionary charisma of automobility and hoped for short-term effects on the labor market, initiated the tax promotion of the automobile. [14] The National Socialist infrastructure policy of the highway construction, which was emphasized as propaganda, and the support of racing also acted as a promotion of the car. The fact that Hitler liked to show himself in a prestigious Mercedes 770 and that the racing successes of Daimler and Auto-Union turned out to be the superiority of German technology underscored his intention to be the first to make automobility possible. The strategy worked, as in 1933 the total value of car production increased by 62 percent compared to the previous year and the workforce by two thirds to 55,000 employees. Production even doubled from 51,845 to 105,667 cars. The growth continued until 1938, although from 1937/38 there was a noticeable slowdown to almost three percent in production and sales due to armaments. The quadrupling of the workforce to 139,000 workers and salaried employees and the sixfold increase in production to 276,804 cars between 1932 and 1938 were counted by the Nazi regime as a separate achievement. [16] The National Socialist government not only tied state-owned companies such as Auto-Union AG, but also Daimler-Benz AG and BMW to itself through additional armaments contracts. [17]

Even if the number of vehicles increased from 561,000 to 1.3 million between 1932 and 1938, the number of motorcycles was even higher at 1.7 million. The vision of an automotive dictatorship only took shape with the propagation of the Volkswagen idea. The "German Volkswagen", designed by Ferdinand Porsche after 1934, was to be manufactured in large-scale production from late summer 1939 in the factory built in what is now Wolfsburg by the German Labor Front (DAF) based on the American model. A savings plan system was set up to spread the power through joy car, in which around 336,000 "Volksgenossen" participated by the end of the war. [18]

The war of conquest that began in September 1939 released the National Socialists from their delivery obligation, which was in any case irredeemable due to the scarcity of raw materials, especially since only 630 KdF cars had left the Volkswagen factory's assembly lines by the end of the war. But the Nazi regime was able to anchor the utopia of a motorization that would be achievable for all "national comrades" in social hopes. Because the bucket and floating car production monopolized on March 19, 1942 by a "Führer's order" in the Volkswagen factory was nevertheless considered a harbinger of a later "mass motorization" in a National Socialist consumer society. In fact, in the Volkswagen factory, as in the other automobile companies, direct armaments production dominated, which went hand in hand with the exploitation of the labor of thousands of slave laborers. [19]