Demise of Public Transportation and the Rise of Fast Food

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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American culture revolves so heavily on cars, we do not even notice it. U.S roads and highway systems exist to move people and resources as fast as possible. Research conducted by the U.S Department of Transportation shows that “…on average, American drivers spend just under an hour driving every day.”. ( yet no one asks how these roads came to be. In the 1930s the U.S experienced a upshift in the usage of cars and this boom inspired those in the fast food industry to work alongside with it.

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Carts and drive-ins began to pop up and soon enough so did drive-through. As cars were popularized, public transportation was decreasing. Cars led to a sense of freedom and the car industry noticed this in Americans, As said in the book Fast Food Nation, “It was determined to wipe out railway competition by what ever means necessary.” . (Schlosser 14) The fall of public transportation had a direct correlation with the car industry and the fast food nation America knows today. Without it the roads we drive on would look drastically different.

The mass transit industry once was ruled by ferries and omnibuses. In 1810, Robert Fulton established a ferry service ran by steam power. His service located in New York, connected lower Manhattan with Jersey City and Brooklyn. The ferry service was a hit and by the 1860s, the ferry industry welcomed more than 32 million people. During this, transit began to appear on land.

Omnibuses were horse drawn carriage for public usage for a fee. But the businesses began to weaken; the prices were too high and the cobblestone roads made it uncomfortable for the passenger.( Trolleys came along and changed the way for American life. Transit allows social interaction with the surrounding areas: shopping and attractions were now accessible to the average everyday person at that time. Transit allowed people to see new things in the city.

October 1, 1908 marks the day Ford produced its first model T car, ‘It had a 22-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and was made of a new kind of heat-treated steel, pioneered by French race car makers, that made it lighter (it weighed just 1,200 pounds) and stronger than its predecessors had been.”. ( ) At first it was expensive luxury car for the rich, but Ford kept its prices low by only making the model T car.

The company could easily manufacture interchangeable parts for the car. This reduced waste, was cheaper and unskilled assembly workers could easily produce thousands of cars a week. Ford changed the game for public transit, this was the first major blow it had suffered. Ford was affordable, stylish and gave drivers the freedom to drive as they please. This was the start of the demise of public transportation.

While these new things occurred in bigger cities, Carl N, Karcher of Ohio moved down to the town of Anaheim. the City of Anaheim was once a small town. It was surrounded by the smell of citrus in the air, that area (Orange County and Los Angeles) was once “The leading agricultural counties in the United States, growing fruits, nuts and vegetables and flowers on land that only a generation earlier had been a desert covered in sagebrush and cactus.”. (Schlosser 14) Carl Karcher moved south to work in his uncles Feed and Seed shop.

At this time, Anaheim was surprisingly ran by the Ku Klux Klan. The area of Anaheim had been originally settled by German immigrants in the late nineteenth century. And after WWI the German settlers welcomed by newcomers of the Midwest… the KKK. They brought their Protestant and conservative ideas, Reverend Leon L. Myers was the pastor of the Anaheim Christian Church. He was able to turn the Ku Klux Klan into the most powerful organization in town. The KKK ran the newspaper and government. They even had a sign on the entrance of the town with the letters “KIGU” (Klansmen I Greet You).

While selling supplies to farmers at his uncle Feed and Seed Store, Carl meet his wife who worked as a secretary in a law firm; right next to the Feed and Seed Store and she could watch Carl work. Carl and Margaret Heinz moved to Los Angeles. Carl began to work at a bakery, driving a truck and delivering bread to markets and restaurants. Carl heard great news that a used hot dog stand was on sell, he convinced his wife to let him buy it and with that he went to the Bank of America and was loaned $311.

Karcher knew this would be a good market for him to compete in because when working at the bakery he noticed how much in demand hot dog buns were in. His business was successful. He kept his job at the bakery and hired two men to sell tamales, chili dogs, hot dogs and soda. Without the car industry booming because of Ford’s first ever car, Carl N. Karcher, the pioneer of fast food would have never been able to successfully own hot dog stands and expand from there.

The hot dog business boomed because people can make their own choices. They no longer had to wait at a trolley stop, they can drive freely to see the city and stop at restaurants. Especially southern California, “the city of angels” was a cultural hotspot for newcomers. This food and social culture revolved around cars. Other cities in the East were stuck in the railroad era but not for Los Angeles. The city was rapidly growing, “By 1940, there were about a million cars in Los Angeles, more cars than in forty-one states.”. (Shlosser 16) This automobile boost happed at this time in LA because of the economic upshift of World War Two

When war happens, there is a massive demand for military supplies. According to “The Post-War Economy: 1945-1960”, “As the Iron Curtain descended across Europe and the United States found itself embroiled in a ??‹Cold War with the Soviet Union, the government maintained substantial fighting capacity and invested in sophisticated weapons such as the hydrogen bomb.”. ( )With these new jobs the war created, the economy soared.

People were able to afford cars, such as the Ford model T car and others. The fast food industry heavily revolved around the car. Drive-ins began to popularize, and Carl Karcher saw an opportunity to get into this new fad. There was a restaurant for sell, Carl bought it, fixed it up and learned how to cook. He then opened Carl’s Drive-In Barbeque. The new prosperity of WWII allowed for the fast food nation to soar.

Not only did the fast food nation soar. As said before the automobile industry sought to not only gain profit but to get rid of its competition. Driving, at the time was not as time consuming and seemed cheaper than public transportation. No more planning your schedule around the rail schedules. “Lobbyists from the oil, tire and automobile industries, among others had persuaded state and federal agencies to assume that fundamental expense.”. (Schlosser 16) General motors even went as far as to destroy the public transportation system from the inside. In the 1920s, General Motors began to purchase trolley systems all over the US, the did this by using fake cooperation names.

General Motors tore up the railway systems and left them abandoned. They did this to force trolley stations to turn into bus stations. Other companies were persuaded by General Motors that benefited from road building to help pay the take over of the trolley industry. In 1947, General Motors and its fellow companies were indicted on federal antitrust chargers. The case was known as “a fine example of what can happen when important matters of public policy are abandoned by government to the self-interest of corporations.”. (Schlosser 16) The General Motors scandal was a deliberate attack on public transportation which lead it to its demise.

The fast food industry heavily revolved around the automobile industry; drive-ins and drive-throughs got its start because of the automobile. Carl Karcher was able to go from one hot dog stand to a drive-in because of the economic boost of World War Two. World War Two also lead the automobile industry to rise. Cars were affordable because the oil, tire and car industry made the government pay for new roads. And the destruction of public transportation was because companies (General Motors) made sure they got rid of their competition. There is a direct link between the rise of the fast food industry and the downfall of public transportation.

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Demise of Public Transportation and the Rise of Fast Food. (2020, Mar 30). Retrieved from