Machines of Youth: America's Car Obsession By Gary S. Cross Cover Image

Machines of Youth: America's Car Obsession (Paperback)

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For American teenagers, getting a driver’s license has long been a watershed moment, separating teens from their childish pasts as they accelerate toward the sweet, sweet freedom of their futures. With driver’s license in hand, teens are on the road to buying and driving(and maybe even crashing) their first car, a machine which is home to many a teenage ritual—being picked up for a first date, “parking” at a scenic overlook, or blasting the radio with a gaggle of friends in tow. So important is this car ride into adulthood that automobile culture has become a stand-in, a shortcut to what millions of Americans remember about their coming of age.

Machines of Youth traces the rise, and more recently the fall, of car culture among American teens. In this book, Gary S. Cross details how an automobile obsession drove teen peer culture from the 1920s to the 1980s, seducing budding adults with privacy, freedom, mobility, and spontaneity.   Cross shows how the automobile redefined relationships between parents and teenage children, becoming a rite of passage, producing new courtship rituals, and fueling the growth of numerous car subcultures. Yet for teenagers today the lure of the automobile as a transition to adulthood is in decline.Tinkerers are now sidelined by the advent of digital engine technology and premolded body construction, while the attention of teenagers has been captured by iPhones, video games, and other digital technology. And adults have become less tolerant of teens on the road, restricting both cruising and access to drivers’ licenses. 

Cars are certainly not going out of style, Cross acknowledges, but how upcoming generations use them may be changing. He finds that while vibrant enthusiasm for them lives on, cars may no longer be at the center of how American youth define themselves. But, for generations of Americans, the modern teen experience was inextricably linked to this particularly American icon.

About the Author

Gary S. Cross is distinguished professor of modern history at Pennsylvania State University and the author of many books including All-Consuming Century: How Commercialism won in Modern America and The Playful Crowd: Pleasure Places in the Twentieth Century.

Praise For…

The 1930s through the 1980s represented a “golden age of American teen car culture”. . .Machines of Youth  recreates this fascinating but largely neglected slice of social history.”
— Times Higher Education

A valuable book in terms of its original research and the growth of car customizing and hot-rodding. . .Among the most informative and enjoyable parts of this book are the very large number of reminiscences Cross has gathered from veteran car enthusiasts, generally identified by their home town and date of birth. He is particularly good at evoking the early days of the prewar era, when secondhand virtual wrecks could be picked up for a few dollars and customized into something that would leave most other road users trailing in the dirt.”
— The Spectator

“Machines of Youth succinctly traces the accelerated–how could it be anything else?–evolution of rodding into the second part of the twentieth century, where it fragments into progressive and preservationist camps, births interesting subcultural offshoots such as the Latino low-riders and eventually settles into senescence as an expensive niche hobby for nostalgic middle-agers.”
— Times Literary Supplement

“Recommended. . .Cross’s major focus is mid-century youth who could afford cars—he rarely discusses what happened to youth without cars—and he does not slight girls, accurately showcasing them for taking active parts in cruising and car clubs in what continues to be considered a male culture. . . .Though transition into adulthood is no longer defined by car ownership, in the mid-20th century the car was a marker for many teens, and Cross does a good job of dissecting that connection.”
— Choice

“Impressive and thorough. Cross has dug up some great factual stories. Machines of Youth is by far the most comprehensive history of our hobby anyone has ever done.”

— Vic Cunnyngham, president of Cal-Rods Car Club

“Machines of Youth traces the rise and fall of the car culture among American teens from its origins in the 1920s and 30s to its decline and virtual disappearance. This very readable book rests on wide-ranging scholarship, including an impressive and persuasive variety of primary sources and interviews. Gary S. Cross is always an interesting scholar and this will be one of his most stimulating contributions.”
— Peter Stearns, George Mason University

“Cross has crafted an evocative, well researched, and engagingly written account of the relationship young people had with the automobile in the decades after World War II.”
— David Farber, University of Kansas

"In this welcome addition to the literature, Gary S. Cross delves into a subject often referenced but rarely explored directly: teen car culture. Specifically, Machines of Youth examines how modern American youth culture evolved hand-in-hand with mass car culture, with important implications for both. Tracing a rise-and-fall arc, Cross dates the emergence of teen car culture to the 1930s, places its peak in the 1950s–1960s, and follows its relative decline in the 1970s–1980s before concluding with a discussion of its legacy in the 1990s and beyond.”
— David Lucsko

Product Details
ISBN: 9780226551135
ISBN-10: 022655113X
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: May 4th, 2018
Pages: 227
Language: English