A NATION ON WHEELS
THE EARLY HISTORY OF THE AUTOMOBILE, IN SO FAR AS recreation is concerned, could hardly have afforded a more striking contrast to that of the movies. There were in all in this country some three hundred horseless carriages -- gasoline buggies, electrics, steam cars -- when moving pictures were first thrown on a screen in 1895. When John P. Harris opened his pioneer moving-picture theatre a decade later, there were almost eighty thousand.1 But though the early period of automobiling coincided so exactly with the years of the nickelodeon madness, the automobile and the movies reached entirely different groups of people.
The movies were for the masses, the automobile for the classes. The distinction could not have been more pronounced. The generalization may be hazarded that none of that vast nickelodeon audience ever even hoped to own or drive a car, while very few of the little band of wealthy automobile owners would have condescended to go to the movies. The first decade of the century witnessed a remarkable expansion in these two new forms of amusement, but it was then impossible to foresee that higher standards of entertainment would soon draw all classes of society into the moving-picture theatres and that the reduced costs of operating an automobile would in time enable all the world to motor. It was not until after 1920 that the movies and motoring could be grouped together as popular forms of recreation in which no class barriers were recognized.