Smithsonian charts history of America's life on wheelsAugust 10, 1997
Web posted at: 11:15 p.m. EDT (0315 GMT)
From Correspondent Kyoko Altman
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- From the days that Americans first took to the open road in those newfangled contraptions called automobiles, family life has become increasingly wedded to wheels.
Now, the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington has a new exhibit showing how the automobile became such a part of the American experience.
For example, in the 1920s and 1930s, as car ownership began spreading, people began packing the kids in cars -- such as the 1929 Oakland Sedan on display in the exhibit -- and taking off for the beach, the mountains or wherever it was that they went to get away from it all.
By the 1950s, that stodgy, practical suburban staple, the station wagon, was de rigueur. That decade also saw the rise of the drive-in, where couples found a car and starlight the perfection combination -- too perfect for nervous parents.
In the 1960s, Americans fell in love with the Volkswagen Beetle. Sure, it was the icon of the counterculture, but it was also practical, fuel efficient, easy to park and a brand new "Bug" cost less than $2,000.
For visitors to the exhibit, the display brings back fond memories: Of nighttime trips to Cape Cod, looking at the stars and the pine trees. Of courtship in the back seat with the Duke on the screen. Of sucking on ice during cross country trips because there was no air conditioning.
Today, of course, minivans rule, and cars of all types have become more high-tech. As in the past, the automobile that has become so much a part of the cultural scene has kept up with the times.
And with accessories such as VCRs in the back seat, the automobile promises to remain a member of the American family for many years to come.
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