A Car for Christmas

Every year Christmas seems to come too fast, signaling the end to another year. This season also brings about the million dollar question: What to get loved ones for Christmas? Starting months in advance, retailers and manufacturers begin advertising potential gifts, including automobiles. For the current market, manufacturers such Lexus and Mercedes advertise that the norm is purchasing a car for a person in the family, whether it is the newly licensed driver or a sports car for the well-deserved parent. However, the tradition of gifting an automobile is not a new one.

Click to view the entire Packard publication in the Hagley Digital Archives.

When automobiles first drove into American culture, the average family only owned one automobile at a time. It was not until after World War II, that American families started to become two-car households.

Automobile companies had to compete to be the one car owned by the typical American family. One advertising tactic was to pitch that a car was the perfect Christmas gift for the whole family. As one Packard catalog suggests, “Hang a Packard on the family’s Christmas Tree this year and thus dispose of your gift problem for four or five years to come.” Not only would a Packard make a great gift, but it was such a well-built car that it would last for four or five years. Packard would even provide a nifty gift box for the key to be hung on the tree, rather than the actual Packard that the advertisement suggested.

The Z. Taylor Vinson collection also contains examples of marketing cars for Christmas from Oldsmobile and Pontiac. Both companies depict Santa driving their cars, each company claiming to be his favorite car. Santa declares that Pontiac is “for the man who believes there is nothing too good for his family.” However, while Santa is praising Pontiac, Oldsmobile depicts Santa actually using their car as his sleigh, powered by the car’s V8 engine.

Click to view the entire Oldsmobile publication in the Hagley Digital Archives.

These catalogs, mostly dated from the 1930’s, suggest that it was popular to give a car for Christmas, and the tradition still continues today. With most contemporary American families owning multiple automobiles, the tradition changed from buying one for the whole family to instead buying one for a member of the family. However, with the changing economic climate, only a small percentage of the population can now actually afford to gift a new vehicle as these Honda Christmas commercials suggest. Rather, it is now more sensible to purchase a car for yourself.

Whether or not you can afford a car for Christmas, happy holidays from the staff of the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection!  We’ll be back in 2012 with plenty of exciting new items to share with you!

Robin Valencia is the Graduate Assistant for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

Do’wanna know how REO Speedwagon got their name?

You might be wondering what a classic rock band has to do with the Vinson Collection. It turns out that REO Speedwagon got its name from an early twentieth century vehicle produced by the Reo Motor Company.

The Reo Motor Car Company of Lansing, Michigan was founded in 1905 by Ransom Eli Olds after he left Olds Motor Works (what would become Oldsmobile). They produced both personal cars and commercial vehicles, but eventually they would shift away from personal cars and become known as a leading producer of commercial vehicles.

In production from 1915 through the 1950s, the Speed Wagon was a commercial vehicle that was built as everything from trucks to delivery vans to buses to fire engines. It is from this vehicle, the Speed Wagon, that the band took their name.

Reo Speed Wagon publication from the 1930s. Click to view the item in the Hagley Digital Archives.

The frequently asked questions section of REO Speedwagon’s official website answers the question, “Where did the band get its name,” with the following:

From a flatbed truck, first built in the early 1900′s. It was very high-speed and heavy-duty for its day, and was considered a milestone in the history of transportation. It was sometimes outfitted as a fire engine. The letters REO are the initials of Ransom Eli Olds, who went on to create the Oldsmobile.

However, it is important to note that the statement about Ransom Eli Olds going on to create Oldsmobile is incorrect. R.E. Olds started Reo after parting ways with Oldsmobile in 1904.

There seems to be little evidence offering a more expansive explanation as to the how and why this particular model came up and seemed worthy of naming a band after.

Well, I guess it’s Time for Me to Fly so you can get Back on the Road Again. And just in case you Can’t Fight This Feeling (of curiosity) Anymore, start Blazin’ Your Own Trail Again and visit the Hagley Digital Archives to view literature on the Reo Speed Wagon.

And, as always, we Don’t Want to Lose You so Keep on Loving Us and come back next week to get in the holiday spirit as we share some car company’s holiday advertising campaigns!

Related Collection Items:
People of All Six Continents Ride in Speed Wagon Busses, (ca. 1922).
Master Speed Wagon 1 1/2-2 Ton, (ca. 1934).
Reo 1/2 Ton Speed Wagon
, (ca. 1934).

“FAQ.” REO Speedwagon. http://www.speedwagon.com (accessed December 5, 2011).
Georgano, Nick, ed. The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of The Automobile (2 Volume Set) Volume 1: A-L; Volume 2: M-Z. Norwich, England: The Stationery Office, 2000.

Emily Cottle is the Project Archivist/Cataloger for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.

GMAC Financing Programs, 1919

In 1919, General Motors created a financing plan for consumers to easily purchase GM vehicles. The General Motors Acceptance Corporation and its GMAC Plan allowed consumers to purchase vehicles on credit by making monthly installment payments to their dealership. The use of credit made owning a car a realistic possibility for many people.

Click to view this item in the Hagley Digital Archives.

General Motors Corporation prided itself on producing a wide range of vehicles for every class of consumer with Chevrolet being the most affordable make in the General Motors line. Future owners of Chevrolets had not only the GMAC Plan available to them to purchase vehicles, but also had the GMAC 6% Purchase Certificate plan. When used together, they were advertised as the easiest way to pay for a Chevrolet out of income.

With the GMAC Plan, the purchaser could pay a down payment of 30% of the purchase price, drive home the car, and make monthly payments until the car was paid in full. However, not everyone could afford the initial 30% down payment. So General Motors Acceptance Corporation went one step further, and created the 6% Purchase Certificate. A purchaser that was not able to afford the initial down payment could make small payments towards the 30% down payment. They would purchase this certificate for a few dollars and every week would make a small payment toward the down payment. Once the full down payment was collected, then the purchaser could turn in their certificate, drive away in their new Chevrolet, and continue to make the rest of the payments on the car under the GMAC Plan.

Click to view this item in the Hagley Digital Archives.

This new idea of buying on credit, made it easier for consumers to purchase big-ticket items such as Chevrolet vehicles. By advertising the GMAC Plan as the easiest method to purchasing a car, more cars could be sold to consumers who would have otherwise not been able to own one. The pamphlets advertising the plan also suggest that not only is it an easy way to purchase a first car, but that the payment plan could also be utilized to start making payments on their next vehicle. Their theory was that as new models came out each year, consumers would want to upgrade or trade in their current model for the latest in automotive design and technology.

By being flexible, the GMAC Plan was designed for purchasers to not only purchase their first vehicle, but also encourage consumers to trade in for the newest car models.  These pamphlets also show that by being able to purchase a car on credit allowed a greater percentage of the American public to own a car, and aided in the process of the passenger vehicle becoming the primary method of personal transportation.  Click on the images to view the pamphlets in the Hagley Digital Archives.


Robin Valencia is the Graduate Assistant on the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.