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  Chapter Five:


  Household Size
  Housing Starts
  Home Ownership
  Machines in the Home
  Automobiles and TVs
  Mobility and Migration



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Automobiles and TVs

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The automobile and television, introduced fifty years apart, diffused with extraordinary speed and affected virtually every aspect of American life.
Eight thousand passenger cars were registered in 1900, half a million in 1910, and nearly 10 million in 1920. No previous invention anywhere had ever spread so quickly. The first real automobile did not appear in the Lyndsí Middletown until 1900; just twenty-two years later, there were two cars for every three Middletown families. Driven an average of more than five thousand miles a year in the 1920s, these automobiles had a major impact on work, leisure, religion, and sexual behavior. 

By 1950, the basic open car of 1900 had evolved into a wide array of motor vehicles: sedans, coupes, station wagons, pickup trucks, delivery vans, large trucks, and buses. Further development led to the hotrod, the eighteen-wheel truck, the minivan, the sport-utility vehicle, and other variations. By the end of the century, some Americans made their homes in recreational vehicles as large as city buses, migrating seasonally between warm and cool sections of the country. 

As the upper chart shows, the rise in motor vehicles per thousand population seldom flagged. The brief halt in car production during World War II was made up as soon as the war ended. Multiple vehicle ownership was not common until the 1950s, but by the end of the century, nearly half of car-owning families had two or more vehicles. More than 90 percent of American households had at least one. Nine of every ten journeys to work were made in private automobiles. 

The spread of television was even more rapid. There were 8,000 television sets in the entire country in 1946. Eight years later, 26 million sets reached more than half the population. At the end of the century, 98 percent of American homes had television sets and most homes had at least two. 

As the lower chart indicates, television viewing rose to a very high level by 1970 and remained at about the same level through the end of the century. In the average household, at least one set was on for more than seven hours a day, and the average person actually watched the screen for about four hours. Divining the alleged consequences of extensive television watching became an industry in itself. The list of putative effects included increased juvenile violence, the fading of regional accents, the commercialization of college sports, the growth of evangelical denominations, the decline of school homework, the commercialization of elections, and a global audience for scandal.

Chapter 5 chart 5

Source Notes
Source Abbreviations

HS series 152; SA 1979, tables 1096 and 1098; SA 1984, table 1063; SA 1991, table 1036; SA 1997, tables 1005 and 1009; and SA 1999, tables 1027, 1039, 1222, and 1439.


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