Thesis ID: CBB001560643

Medicalizing the Automobile: Public Health, Safety, and American Culture, 1920--1967 (2006)


Gangloff, Amy Beth (Author)

State University of New York at Stony Brook
Tomes, Nancy

Publication Date: 2006
Edition Details: Advisor: Tomes, Nancy
Physical Details: 390 pp.
Language: English

My project explores how Americans responded to the risks of the automobile in twentieth century life, specifically how attempts to medicalize the dangers conflicted and competed with the meanings attached to the car. While work has been done on the shift from blaming the driver for automobile accidents to an emphasis on designing more "crashworthy" automobiles, few studies have examined how changing models of public health provided the rationale for such a shift. It is my contention that changes in medical thinking and the emergence of the new field of risk factor epidemiology provided a useful model for a younger group of traffic safety experts to challenge the automobile industry's control over automobile design. In doing so, they challenged traditional understandings of automobile accidents and the authority of the country's largest industry. In my study, I position these challenges within their wider cultural and social contexts in order to highlight both the strengths and weaknesses of the new approach to automobile risks. The first chapter offers an overview of the development of American automobility and early responses to automobile accidents in the 1920s and 1930s. The second chapter explores early attempts to engineer safety through traffic control, law enforcement and behavior modification. The third chapter focuses on the work of Hugh De Haven, an engineer who credited as the Father of Crashworthiness, in the 1940s and 1950s. De Haven argued that the first collision between the automobile and another structure was too difficult to manage, containing too many variables to control. Instead, he believed safety efforts should be focused on preventing injuries and fatalities that resulted from the second collision, when the passengers struck the interior of the automobile. This new paradigm provided politicians and social critics such as Ralph Nader with a powerful tool to challenge the automobile industry's autonomy. Chapters four and five examine congressional efforts to regulate automobile safety in a context where differing scientific perspectives provided uncertain guidance.


Description “Explores how Americans responded to the risks of the automobile in twentieth century life, specifically how attempts to medicalize the dangers conflicted and competed with the meanings attached to the car.” (from the abstract) Cited in Diss. Abstr. Int. A 68/04 (2007). Pub. no. AAT 3258930.

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Authors & Contributors
Clarke, Adele E.
Fosket, Jennifer Ruth
Mamo, Laura
Lundin, Per
Packer, Jeremy
Jones, David W.
Technology and Culture
Taiwanese Journal for Studies of Science, Technology, and Medicine
Twentieth-Century British History
Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences
History and Technology
Osiris: A Research Journal Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Duke University Press
Indiana University Press
Aero Design & Mfg. Co.
UNSW Press
MIT Press
Iowa State University
Land transportation
Technology and society
Automobile safety
Curtiss, Glenn Hammond
Time Periods
20th century
20th century, early
19th century
21st century
United States
Shanghai (China)
Great Britain
Puerto Rico
National Research Council (U.S.)
U.S., National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

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