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10 Fun Facts about the U.S. Auto Industry

For one hundred years, America’s auto industry has been the heart and soul of the nation’s economy. Here are 10 interesting facts you may not know about the long and colorful history of automobile manufacturing in the United States:

Duryea Motor Coach Factory

1. In the 1890s, dozens of inventors made and marketed custom-made “horseless carriages.” However, history credits Charles and Frank Duryea as being America’s first true commercial automobile manufacturers. Their Duryea Motor Wagon Company, based in Springfield, Mass., sold 13 identical vehicles in 1896. [1]

Duryea Brothers

2. Ironically, a Duryea automobile is credited with being in the first recorded automobile accident. It occurred in March 1896 when New York City motorist Henry Wells, driving a Duryea, struck a bicyclist, breaking his leg. Wells spent the night in jail. [2]

Curved Dash Oldsmobile

3. America’s first mass-produced automobile was the “Curved Dash Oldsmobile,” produced by the Olds Motor Works of Detroit in 1901. Founder Ransome Eli Olds produced 425 of the cars that year using the kind of assembly line techniques that would later be perfected by his chief competitor, Henry Ford. [3]

Model T Factory

4. In 1913-14, Henry Ford introduced conveyor belts to the assembly line at his Ford Motor Co. plant in Highland Park, Mich., greatly speeding the manufacturing process and lowering per-unit costs. Ford boasted that this system allowed him to build a complete Model T in just 93 minutes. [4]

Packard Logo

5. More than 1,650 auto companies went in and out of business in the United States between 1900 and 1940. [5]

Ford Motor Co. Tank Ad

6. Have you ever seen a 1944 Buick? You never will. The entire American auto industry went to war following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. On federal orders, no civilian automobiles, commercial trucks or even auto parts were manufactured between February 1942 and October 1945. Instead, automakers converted their plants to make military vehicles, including trucks, jeeps and tanks. [6]

Big 3 Auto Makers

7. By the mid-20th century, America’s top three auto manufacturers — General Motors (GM), Ford and Chrysler — produced approximately two-thirds of all cars sold in the world. This global dominance continued until the early 1970s. [7]

American Auto Plant

8. Peak employment for the U.S. auto industry was actually in 2000, when it employed approximately 1.3 million workers. That number is now down to around 700,000. [8]

1960 Ford F Series Truck

9. The best-selling American-made vehicle of all time is the Ford F-Series light truck. Between 1948 and today, it’s sold more than 34 million units. [9]

Tesla auto

10. Although we’re all familiar with the “Big Three” automakers — GM, Ford and Chrysler — there are still many small, niche manufacturers operated in the U.S. A partial list includes Anteros, Avanti, Callaway, Carbon, DeLorean, Dragon, Fisker, Mosler, Panoz, Shelby American, SSC, Tesla and Zimmer. [10]

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