The steam locomotive "John Bull" was built in 1831 and ran for 35 years, pulling trains of passen
Grade Range: K-12
Resource Type(s): Artifacts, Primary Sources
Date Posted: 7/8/2009
In the 1950s, the station wagon became a staple of America's new suburban landscape and a ubiquitous extension of the suburban home. This car reveals how one family adopted a mobile, active lifestyle and how station wagons shaped family life.
Between the 1920s and 1940s, station wagons evolved from small wooden buses to wood-trimmed utility vehicles that carried people, luggage, and recreational gear at rural estates, country clubs, and private schools. Strong demand for used "woodies" among postwar, middle-class families alerted manufacturers to a larger market. The introduction of all-steel bodies eliminated maintenance of wooden panels, and sales soared. Sedan-type styling made the station wagon look at home in suburban driveways. Imitation wood decals preserved the rural, elitist look of the 1940s.
Suburban families found countless uses for their station wagons: taking children to school, picking up lawn and garden supplies, carrying home project materials, and enjoying day trips and vacations. The station wagon quickly became a symbol of family activity and intimacy in the outdoors. It served as a mobile living room at drive-in theaters, a mobile dining room at drive-in restaurants, and a home on wheels during camping trips.
Nancy Harder, a southern California housewife, drove this car to schools and doctors with her five children. She and her husband George used it extensively. On family outings, the cargo area was filled with picnic baskets, rubber rafts, beach towels, skis, hula hoops, tricycles, radios, and, of course, the family dog. On vacation trips to national parks, this area served as a playpen. When the children were older, they learned to drive this car, and George taught them to wash and polish the exterior and vacuum the upholstery.
After the children were grown, George used the station wagon to commute to work and haul materials for do-it-yourself projects. It also served as a spare car when the children came home from college.