Appendices - Hirohito's War
APPENDIX N: THE ROLE OF OIL IN THE PACIFIC WAR
The Rise of the Automobile: The economics and importance of the auto-industry in America has been substantially covered in Appendix C. Suffice to say that the growth of the automobile demand was one of the main drivers of the oil industry. In 1905 US auto production amounted to just 20,000 units. It was only recently that the combustion engine had replaced steam powered and electric cars. A contemporary writer noted, “The automobile is the idol of the modern age. The man who owns a motorcar gets for himself, besides the joys of touring, the adulation of the walking crowd, and… is a god to the women.”5
Thereafter the growth in the industry was spectacular; 200,000 units in 1910, 800,000 units in 1915, 1.45m units 1920 and peaking at an astonishing 4m units in 1929. Between 1914 and 1920, World War I notwithstanding, the stock of automobiles in the United States grew from 1.8m to 9.2m. Growth was such that George Otis Smith, Director of the United States Geological Survey, in a refrain that has been familiar every decade or so since, warned that oil would run out within the decade. The need for America to follow ‘open door’ trade policies had never been clearer.
Although the Great Depression pegged back growth to between 2.3 – 3.0m units per annum in the 1930s, the stock of cars in the United States grew immeasurably. [See Chart N.4] In 1929 America accounted for 78 percent of the world automobiles. With the introduction by Ford of a mass produced V-8 engine, gas consumption per vehicle also grew rapidly. In 1936 the state of Texas alone had over 1.5m cars, more than the whole of Japan. Spurred by the Federal Aid Highway Act  by the end of the decade more than 21,000 miles of road had been built. America was transformed. Where once it was railway towns that boomed, now it was towns along the highways. In Only Yesterday  the historian Frederick Lewis Allen, later editor of Harper’s Magazine, noted that “villages on Route 61 bloomed with garages, filling stations, hot-dog stands, chicken-dinner restaurants, tearooms, tourists’ rests, camping sites and affluence.”6