The Family Car in the 1940s
The very first driver’s training program was conducted in State College, Pennsylvania in 1934. Before that date, most drivers would get a driver’s license by visiting a local government office to pay a very small fee (like $.25) and would walk out with a license to drive. During the 1940s, most families did not have two cars, a television, and a family dog. Thinking about cars and driving cars was very different in the days of the 1940s.
Many families in the 1940s had cars like the Chevy Stylemaster, but most teens did not drive the big family car to school. Most kids actually walked, road the bus, or steered their bikes to school. Families (even teens) appreciated the idea of hard work, so if they were to add a car to the curb outside of their homes, they would save up and purchase it with cash. This also meant that most teens did not get a car on their sixteenth birthdays.
By the end of the 1940s, cars were not as novel as they had been in the previous decade. After the war, many soldiers returned with experience driving a variety of different military vehicles, like Jeeps and trucks. Many of the veterans decided to purchase a new car when they returned from war. During this time, General Motors made sure that cars were affordable, like the low priced Chevy Stylemaster that could be purchased for prices between $1000 and $1400 during the last few years of the 1940s. These big cars were useful when veterans of World War II returned and began growing the Baby Boomer generation.
Since many of the earliest car buyers in the 1940s had lived through both the Great Depression and World War II, they were used to pinching pennies. This meant that they did not spend much on gas, extra features, or unnecessary expenses relating to their cars. They thought of the family car as a tool to get from one point to the next; they used it to go to the store, church, and other necessary places. Owning a second car was not important until the late 1960s and early 1970s, as evidenced by the fact that two-stall garages did not appear on houses until then.