Segments in this Video

Century on Wheels (03:34)


The automobile captures the American imagination right from the start. Host Bill Moyers demonstrates how important cars are to most people's memories of life's milestones.

Cars vs. Horses (01:55)

In 1900, the presence of the automobile on the streets was blessed relief from the massive amounts of horse manure and urine left on city streets. Automakers begin to distinguish themselves and their car models.

Romance with the Automobile (02:04)

Automobiles are ten times more expensive than horses, but in the early 1900s, affluent Americans began their romance with cars. Cars facilitate adventure, courtship, and speed. "From the race to the chase, Hollywood is soon in the act."

Henry Ford: Cars for the Masses (04:02)

Henry Ford intends for his car to serve the common folk. In 1908, Ford introduces his Model-T. Ford's genius is in standardizing parts for a uniform design so cars could be assembled rapidly. GM offers choices of style, color, and class to consumers.

Cars and Societal Changes (02:22)

In a few years, cars were changing society. No other invention had shaken up traditional living patterns in so short a time. Women have access to a much larger world and gain more independence. The nation becomes more unified.

Post WWI Prosperity (02:23)

The automobile industry feeds American growth. Hundreds of thousands of Americans find work in feeder industries. In post-WWI America, the car industry fuels America's new prosperity.

Twenties: Rise and Fall of the Automobile (02:31)

The Roaring Twenties could aptly be called the Rolling Twenties. Ford rolls his last Tin Lizzie off the production line. Cars are playthings and provide entertainment. New car sales fall 75% during the Depression.

Heart of America Uprooted (01:30)

The dispossessed from the heart of America move West in search of jobs and a new start. There is no pot of gold at the end of rainbow.

Cars and Glamour (04:51)

As Dust Bowl survivors struggle West, Hollywood flaunts its glamorous stars and their glamorous vehicles. Films glamorize cars, fulfilling the American dream of romance and adventure.

Government Building Projects (02:14)

In the 1930s, the number of paved roads for automobiles doubled over that of the 1920s. Government building projects helped workers earn enough to buy cars, thus invigorating the economy.

Labor and Management Form Truce (UAW) (03:21)

Post-Depression growth of the auto industry causes dissatisfaction among workers. Depression pay cuts and assembly line speed-ups have workers talking militantly. Police go after strikers, but strikers hang on. The result is the United Automobile Workers of America.

Pre- and Post-War Economy in America (03:09)

By the end of the 1930s, recovery seems to be just around the corner. Car manufacturers design luxurious vehicles. America emerges from WWII the richest and most powerful nation. The family car symbolizes the American way of life.

Wartime Car Production (01:09)

Car production during WWII grinds to a halt while factories retool to produce vehicles and weapons for the war. Government markets the idea of car-pooling to save gasoline. Cars roll off the line again 1 year after V-J Day.

Suburbanites and Cars (02:09)

Returning war veterans find affordable housing in new suburban developments. As the number of suburbanites grows, the auto industry finds its steadiest customers.

Innovations in Cars (02:21)

By the 1950s, luxury cars are marketed to the average citizen. Some cars are "living rooms on wheels". Cars come to mean more than transportation. Futuristic cars and those heavy on chrome and long on tail fins are common.

Romance of the Road (02:36)

By the 1960s, America is a drive-in civilization. Country music popularizes the romance of the road. Suburban shopping malls appeal to the society on wheels. People socialize less, and the haves and have-nots are more divided.

Teenagers and Cars (01:26)

In the late Fifties and Sixties, cruising is a teen ritual. Teens use cars for courtship. "Like my car? Let's go, baby!" The soda shop is long gone, and teens meet and pair up on the cruising strips.

Cars and Air Pollution (01:31)

The debris of America's car culture is piling up in and around American towns and cities. Traffic deaths reach 55,000 per year. Roadsides become convenient dumps for the wreckage left behind.

Counterculture (01:42)

When half a million young people flock to Woodstock to demonstrate their disenchantment with materialism, they create the largest parking lot in the world. Soon, young people march to protest air pollution from those very cars.

Europe Challenges Supremacy of Detroit (01:18)

When gas prices go up in the 1960s, Americans turn to foreign cars that get more miles per gallon. Europe challenges Detroit's complacency with better cars. America's auto industry is forced to think small.

America and Cars: Bill Moyers' Commentary (02:18)

Film host bill Moyers offers his commentary on America's journey and romance with the car. Cars are endowed in the minds of Americans with the perks and qualities of life. America personalizes the car more than any other machine.

Credits: America on the Road (01:40)

Credits: America on the Road

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America on the Road

Part of the Series : A Walk Through the 20th Century with Bill Moyers
DVD (Chaptered) Price: $149.95
DVD + 3-Year Streaming Price: $224.93
3-Year Streaming Price: $149.95



In 1908, the first Model T rolled off the assembly line, quickly asserting itself as a dream machine that would take America down the highway and into the future. Bill Moyers shows how that future represented not only a new landscape bustling with high-speed transport and travel, but a new vision of ourselves. He uses film clips, photographs, music, and poetry to trace America’s transformation into a mobile culture, complete with shopping malls, fast food, suburbia, carhops, drag strips, pollution, traffic jams, and—at the time this high-energy visual document was produced—a manufacturing-based economy. (53 minutes)

Length: 54 minutes

Item#: BVL42065

ISBN: 978-1-62102-059-2

Copyright date: ©1984

Closed Captioned

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Not available to Home Video customers.