April 10, 2012
The Roaring Twenties brought Americans a new era of mass-produced goods and, with it, an emerging middle class clamoring for newly affordable automobiles. In 1925 you could buy a Ford Model T for just $290 (about $3,700 adjusted for inflation). That same car would cost you $850 when it was first introduced in 1908 (about $20,400 adjusted for inflation). This steep drop in the price of cars — coupled with a national fascination with flight — had every “small f” futurist dreaming up the flying car of tomorrow.
The June, 1927 issue of Science and Invention magazine looked at one possible flying car of the future — specifically, a flying ambulance . The magazine included pictures from a scale model display, dreamt up by a French inventor who is unfortunately left unnamed by the article. The ambulance would be completely independent of the plane and simply drive into position to be swept away to the nearest hospital. The inventor imagines that patients would be riding in much more comfort because the ambulance could be sailing through the air rather than traversing over rough roads.
The Ne Plus Ultra of comfort can be found in this conception of a French inventor, permitting automobiles to go into the air as flying machines. It surely would be a great convenience if travelers, without leaving their automobiles, could embark in an airplane by driving their car into its fuselage. This particular invention was developed by a high-speed ambulance service, and allowing patients to be transported without shock or discomfort, such as might be experienced of the automobile [if it] were driven over bad roads. The machine is fastened into the fuselage of the plane.
This machine is reminiscent of the aero-limousine which was exhibited at the Aviation Show in New York some years ago. This arrangement possesses the added advantage that the automobile may be driven out of the fuselage used separately from the plane in any way desired. The perfection of this invention should prove of military use.
Local governments across the country were scrambling to figure out how keep pace with (or often restrict) the burgeoning car culture that was erupting. It’s sometimes hard to imagine what the world looked like before the development of our modern highway system. In the year 1919, future President Eisenhower (then just a lieutenant colonel) participated in a drive across the United States from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco called the Transcontinental Motor Convoy. This caravan of 80 vehicles by the U.S. Army had the goal of demonstrating how vital a modern transportation infrastructure was to U.S. forces in the event of any future war. The journey took 62 days and Eisenhower would later describe the roads they used as ranging from “average to non-existent.”
Eisenhower, of course, would be instrumental in developing America’s modern highway system in the mid-1950s. But long before these highways would crisscross the United States some people found hope in the aerial technologies which might make transportation that much easier.
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