Engine Of Liberation

THE MECHANICS banging away in carriage sheds and basements ninety years ago gave our civilization its twentieth-century character.

Since then the rate has dropped more or less steadily, thanks to far better-designed cars and highways (padded bridge abutments, for instance) and a decline in alcohol consumption. In 1995 the death rate per hundred million vehicle miles was only 1.7.

THE MECHANICS AND TINKER ers banging away in basements and carriage sheds at the turn of the century— men with names like Ford, Durant, Leland, Chrysler, Dodge, and Olds— weren’t trying to change the world. Many looked no further than just getting their latest designs to work. Most hoped only to make a buck out of what they were doing, and many of course did so, some in huge amounts.

But unintentionally they also gave American civilization, and thus the world in this “American Century,” their twentieth-century character, their very nature. That’s why when people a hundred years from now imagine themselves standing at the corner of Forty-second Street and Fifth Avenue on a hot August day in the year 2000, they will have to conjure up the automobile—its sounds, its smells, its shapes— to bring the scene to life.

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