Inventing Modern: Growing Up with X-Rays, Skyscrapers, and Tailfins

By John H. Lienhard | Go to book overview

8
Automobile

The 41-story First National Bank Building in St. Paul, Minnesota, was, by far, the tallest thing in my childhood experience. By the turn of the twenty-first century, only two St. Paul buildings had topped it, and they by only a small margin. Finished the year I was born, the First National Bank Building dominated the city, and it has remained the first image I see when I hear the word skyscraper.

However, a new family ritual was already undercutting that image. When I was around five, my parents bought a patch of land east of town, just south of the Hudson Road to Wisconsin. It lay on the shore of small Wilmes Lake, next to a 350-acre truck and dairy farm. My father hired a carpenter to build a small balloon-frame cottage on the hillside above the lake. It was all on one floor, around six hundred square feet indoors, with large screened porches on two sides. The inside was unfinished, and it gave the general impression of flimsy minimalism.

We had no plumbing or electricity. Water came from an outdoor iron pump supplied by a well. There was a two-hole privy in back, and a root cellar nearby. Inside were an iron stove, minimal furniture, and one curtained-off bedroom. I can summon up the physical presence of all that with remarkable clarity, 65 years later.

To get there, my parents, brother, sister, and I would pile into our Plymouth and head out of town. The road took us past the First National Bank Building, where we ritualistically said, “Ooh, Ah!” We continued around Indian Mounds Park, where we ritualistically asked if Indians were really buried there. The fact that our parents did not know never dissuaded us from asking the question again the next time. The question, like our admiration of the First National Bank Building, was a part of the trip.

Then we were clear of town and off for a day or two of uncity life. Once we reached the summer place, we shot bows and arrows, looked

-115-

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Inventing Modern: Growing Up with X-Rays, Skyscrapers, and Tailfins
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Preface vii
  • Inventing Modern xi
  • 1 - 1846: Great-Grandpa and Manifest Destiny 1
  • 2 - Short-Lived Technologies: Searching for Direction 21
  • 3 - “the Irruption of Forces Totally New” 39
  • 4 - A New Genus of Genius 53
  • 5 - Remington to Modern: Finding the Core on the Fringe 64
  • 6 - Fires and the High-Rise Phoenix 84
  • 7 - The Titan City 101
  • 8 - Automobile 115
  • 9 - On the Road: of Highways and Gasoline 137
  • 10 - The Back Door into the Sky 152
  • 11 - Flying Down to Rio 172
  • 12 - A Boy's Life in the New Century 190
  • 13 - Inventing a Better Mousetrap 204
  • 14 - War 219
  • 15 - A Funeral in the Fifties 244
  • 16 - After Modern 258
  • Notes 269
  • Index 285
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