July 9, 1917: Driven to eat too much

Posted on July 12th, 2009 – 6:09 PM
By Ben Welter

Can automobiles “stroll around”? They did in this Minneapolis Morning Tribune article, which ranks among the lamest reportorial efforts to appear in Yesterday’s News. Without scientific support, or any attribution whatever, the reporter [George Authier, future president of the National Press Club] made a connection between the increasing number of automobiles and the decreasing number of reported lung ailments. What other cause could there be, other than Americans climbing into their motor cars for leisurely outings and breathing that healthy outdoor air?

But of course there was a downside to report: Reliance on motor cars also “lessened the activity” of the American people, leading to disturbances of the “digestive apparatus.” Translation: Cars have put America on the road to obesity. That assertion, attributed or not, sounds about right more than 90 years later.

Great Increase in
Use of Automobiles
Changes Americans

Census Reports Show Lung
Trouble Has Decreased in
Last Fifteen Years.


Recent Years Have Seen Great
Improvement in Roads of
the Nation.


Washington, July 9 – (Special.) – Anyone complaining that traffic is congested on Nicollet avenue because of the number of automobiles strolling around should have comfort in realizing they are only a small portion of the total number of automobiles in the United States.

However, this consolation may be quickly turned into despair if he realizes that in 1916 there were 1067,332 more cars registered in the United States than in 1915. It will also have a tendency to make Secretary of State Julius Schmahl realize that his work in issuing Minnesota licenses is not so strenuous if he realizes there are 3,512,996 cars in the entire country.

In the same connection it is interesting to note that during the last 15 years, according to census reports, tubercular and lung troubles have been lessening in number. But at the same time intestinal troubles have been increasing.

Automobiles Affect Health.

From this it would seem that the motor car has brought about more outdoor living, has increased the supply of oxygen, but has lessened the activity of the American nation. In learning to breathe we have forgotten to walk. Another possible connection between the motor car and intestinal troubles is that it induces a false appetite without sufficient exercise to dispose of the additional food. A dinner with much food and considerable drinking frequently forms part of the close of an automobile ride with consequent disturbance of the digestive apparatus.

In addition to the motor cars registered in the United States, there are 250,000 motorcycles which help to burn up the visible supply of gasoline.

The several states in the last year collected from registration and license fees the total gross revenue of $25,865,369.75. Of this amount 92 per cent, or $23,910,811, was applied directly to the construction, improvement or maintenance of the public roads in 43 states.

In 1906 the total state registrations were approximately 48,000 cars, on account of which the several states collected in fees and license a total gross revenue of about $196,000. Only a small part of this was applied to road work. In 1916 of the $35,865,369.75 collected was formed nearly 9 per cent of the total rural road and bridge revenues of the states.

Recent years have shown an increasing tendency to put the spending of the motor car revenues directly into the hands of the state highway departments. Of the total amount applied to road work in 1916, 70 per cent, or $16,411,520, was expended more or less directly under the control or supervision of state highway departments. Only 13 states did not exercise any direct control over the expending of the net automobile revenues.

These gents stopped to enjoy a few beverages — but no snacks, apparently — after a political meeting in 1917. The stuffed elephant toy on the hood hints at their political affiliation. (Photo courtesy mnhs.org)

Comments are closed.