Q: We recently bought a new car and there is no CD player, which is inconvenient for us with massive CD collections. And even though I don’t smoke, I realized that cars no longer have ashtrays. Cigarette lighters are now accessory charging ports. It all made me wonder when the following were introduced: music players, air conditioners, cup holders, vent windows, and lighters and ashtrays.
C.N., of Edwardsville
A: Here’s an interesting bit of history for all you multitaskers who think you can drive, text, and eat a McBarfle’s at the same time: In 1930, both Massachusetts and St. Louis reportedly proposed laws that would ban the use of radios while driving.
“Opponents of car radios argued that they distracted drivers and caused accidents,” automotive historian Michael Lamm told Mental Floss in 2012. “Tuning them took a driver’s attention away from the road, and music could lull a driver to sleep.”
The Auto Club of New York agreed. In its 1934 poll, 56 percent called the car radio a “dangerous distraction.” On the other side, the Radio Manufacturers Association contended that radios could warn drivers of approaching storms and actually help drivers stay alert when drowsy.
We know who won that argument, don’t we? But by 1930 you might be surprised to learn that it had been brewing for nearly a decade. According to the best research available, the first radio was introduced in a 1922 Chevrolet. It cost $200 ($2,800 today) and featured an antenna that covered the car’s roof, batteries you could barely stuff under the front seat and two huge speakers placed behind the seat. I found one internet wag compare it to stuffing a live orchestra in your car.
Fortunately, they quickly shrank in size and complexity. In 1930, the Galvin Brothers wowed the Radio Manufacturers Association convention in Atlantic City, N.J., with the radio they had hooked up in their Studebaker. Needing a catchier name than “Galvin,” they combined “motor vehicle” with “victrola” to come up with Motorola. By the early 1930s, less cumbersome devices from Motorola, Philco and others became standard and by 1940 push-button tuning had been added as well.
Ever since, the hits have kept on coming, according to a time line compiled by Car and Driver magazine:
1952 — Blaupunkt introduces the first FM car radio. 1963 — The Becker Monte Carlo is the first all-transistor radio. (Yes, car radios once had vacuum tubes, too.) 1965 — Teen drivers rock to the first 8-track player launched by Ford and Motorola. (Kids, ask your parents — or grandparents — to explain perhaps the all-time worst audio format.) 1968 — first in-dash cassette player. (Lexus and Ford were among the last to offer them in 2010.)1969— Becker introduces stereo sound. And, finally, 1984 — Sony markets the first car CD player.
Now, a quick look at other must-haves, most of which you’ll now find only in junkyards and museums:
▪ Venting frustration: As the 1930s dawned, autos started to become a bit more streamlined. One of the innovations was the Fisher Body Company’s slanted windshield, which cut drag and reduced glare for oncoming drivers.
But this new feature meant that the windshield could no longer be opened, which could lead to a sweaty ride on a hot, summer day. So on Nov. 28, 1932, Alfred Fisher filed for a patent on his “No Draft I.C.V. Ventilation” window system, which included small pivoting vent windows in both the front side and rear door windows that allowed air to flow through the car without ruining the missis’s new hairdo. (One could also flick ash from cigarettes outside without it flying back in your face.) In 1933, it was introduced on new GM cars with Fisher bodies, including Chevrolet and Cadillac.
▪ Cool your jets: Although a New York company reportedly offered to install its air conditioner in your car in 1933, Packard became the first to offer it as an option in 1939 for $274 at a time when the average annual salary is $1,368. It also likely made owners hot under the collar at times. It was placed in the trunk, and a driver had to manually install and remove the drive belt from the compressor to turn it off and on. Cadillac followed in 1941, but it wasn’t until the 1953 Chrysler Imperial that the device actually became practical.
▪ Up in smoke: By the 1920s, cigarettes had overtaken cigars in popularity and sometime in the 1925-1926 range, cigarette lighters became standard equipment in cars, according to Ali Elhaj, president of Casco, an auto parts company. The more modern (but now extinct) automatic lighter that popped out when it became hot was reportedly developed by Casco in the 1960s.
▪ Cup runneth over: And that’s likely been a problem ever since the first car — where can you safely put your cup of joe so you don’t have to hold it forever while you’re jouncing along at 15 mph on some primitive road? As early as the 1920s, you might have found some useful gizmo in the Ford gadget section of the Sear’s catalog, which noted author E.B. White described “was larger than men’s clothing, almost as large as household furnishings.”
But the search for a practical solution didn’t pick up steam until the advent of the drive-in restaurant in the 1950s. Soon, car companies were coming up with ideas ranging from snack trays that hung from the dashboard to a hinged plate wedged between the seat cushion. But if you were looking for the cup holder we know and love today, you had to wait until Chrysler introduced a new word into the American lexicon — the minivan. In 1984, both the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager came with two cup holders sunk into the dashboard plastic. Within a decade they became standard, even though in 1989 U.S. News and World Report snobbishly called them an “unnecessary frill.”
So I guess despite pressure from friends, all of this makes me — an audio Luddite with 4,000 CDs and a working 6-CD changer in my trunk — want to hang on to my 1999 Toyota more than ever.
What car company once offered a turntable in its cars?
Answer to Saturday’s trivia: What letter is like a gossip? W — because it makes ill will. What letter is like a wedding ring? D — because we can’t be wed without it. What letter is like death? E — because it comes at the end of life. Like these? See all 26 at www.braingle.com/brainteasers/teaser.php?op=2&id=24820&comm=0.