Auto Parts Industry – a Brief History

Throughout it’s history the auto parts industry has gone through many changes, and continues that tradition, even, today,

The auto parts industry, since its inception, has always been, somewhat of an elusive creature. Everyone knows that the auto parts store is there, yet, somehow it remains a mystery. Typically a man’s realm, until recently, it was only a place to go to of necessity. The auto parts store was bred out of necessity. In this paper, I’d like to, briefly, cover some of it’s history, from it’s early beginnings as a simple, but needed entity, up to today. From it’s simple beginnings, the auto parts store has grown into a mufti-billion dollar industry, with sponsorships covering most professional sports types, and even generating its own genre of television shows.

The history of auto parts, actually, begins with the history of automobiles. Unless the first automobile had been manufactured, there would have been no need for automotive parts. In 1870, Julius Hock builds the first internal combustion engine that runs on liquid gasoline. On September 5, 1885 the first gasoline pump is installed in Fort Wayne, Indiana. In 1901 the first mass production of automobiles was begun by Ransome Eli Olds, the precursor to the Oldsmobile. But, it was a man by the name of Henry Ford who brought true, assembly line mass production into practice. As of 1913, Ford became the world’s largest automobile manufacturer. And, by 1927, 15 million Model T’s had been manufactured.

It was at this point that the need for automotive parts began. From its early beginnings automobiles were manufactured with parts that would need to be replaced. Tires wore out, starters failed, and other internal engine parts would wear from normal use.

This paper, initially, was going to cover a brief history of the auto parts industry. However, after a long, and exhaustive search it has become obvious that little to no information exists on this subject. Not only this subject, but the automotive industry, as a whole.

There is information about automobiles, but, it is scattered like little bread crumbs, and one has to pick at each to gather enough to make a whole slice, so to speak.

So, what I intend to do here is summarize the industry, as I have come to find information, in my research. A lot of what was available, either in print or other media, has been lost due to age. I was able to find a volume that had survived, and had been scanned by Google, for preservation, called “The Horseless Age.” A very interesting work from Princeton University, written in 1915, and sold for the outrageous amount of 10 cents! What is amazing, to me, is that it is a 973-page Ebook. [ If you would like a copy go to my website for download; The Horseless Age ]

The reason that I believe that so little exists about parts stores themselves is because of the bicycle. That’s right, the simple bicycle. The bicycle had a great deal to do with the evolution of the automobile. In man’s search for easier and faster ways to be transported, the bicycle was one of the great inventions of our lives.

The bicycle was what made the Gay Nineties gay. It was a practical investment for the working man as transportation, and gave him a much greater flexibility for leisure. Ladies, heretofore consigned to riding the heavy adult size tricycles that were only practical for taking a turn around the park, now could ride a much more versatile machine and still keep their legs covered with long skirts. The bicycle craze killed the bustle and the corset, instituted “common-sense dressing” for women and increased their mobility considerably. In 1896 Susan B. Anthony said that “the bicycle has done more for the emancipation of women than anything else in the world.”

Bicycling was so popular in the 1880s and 1890s that cyclists formed the League of American Wheelman (still in existence and now called the League of American Bicyclists). The League lobbied for better roads, literally paving the road for the automobile.

The invention of the bicycle has had an enormous impact on society, both in terms of culture and of advancing modern industrial methods. Several components that eventually played a key role in the development of the automobile were originally invented for the bicycle, including ball bearings, pneumatic tires, chain-driven sprockets and spoke-tensioned wheels

As a result of many of the manufacturers of bicycles gravitating to the manufacture of automobiles, it seemed only logical that they become an outlet for the sale of parts, as well.

Along with bicycle makers getting into the business, many of the “horseless carriage” manufacturers began to get into the business. In 1886 , William M. Dutton, and JH Haney became partners in the manufacture of high quality harness and horse collars. The business was known as the JH Haney Co., which expanded into a line of automobile parts and accessories. It eventually was named the WH Dutton Sons Co., for the new owners.

Founded in 1886, Sears, Roebuck and Co. was a large retailer, with stores throughout the United States. (Interestingly, the original partnership consisted of Richard Sears, a watch seller, and Alvah Roebuck, a watchmaker.) In addition to its stores, Sears was well-known for its annual catalogs, through which Sears made its products available to people throughout the country. Sears maintained a particular focus on automotive parts and equipment, many of which were marketed under the “Allstate” brand name, and also sold a line of scooters and motorcycles. Allstate catalogs from the period feature a full line of automotive accessories, including many lines of items specifically designed for racing and rallying. Much, in fact most, of this business was done through mail order.

In the United States, brothers Charles and Frank Duryea founded the Duryea Motor Wagon Company in 1893, becoming the first American automobile manufacturing company. However, it was Ranson E. Olds and his Olds Motor Vehicle Company (later known as Oldsmobile ) who would dominate this era of automobile production. Its large scale production line w as running in 1902. Within a year Cadillac (formed from the Henry Ford Company), Winton and Ford were producing cars in the thousands.

Started in 1909, Western Auto Supply Company was a specialty retail chain of stores that supplied automobile parts and accessories. It operated approximately 590 stores across the United States. Western Auto originally started as a mail order business for replacement auto parts. The first retail store was established in 1921, and grew quickly as automobiles became more and more common. At one point, there were over 1,200 company-owned stores nationwide, usually located in metropolitan areas.

Manufacturers started marketing their cars in an aggressive manner after the war. They started targeting individuals instead of families. They successfully convinced Americans that there was nothing wrong in having as many cars as they were number of members in the family. They came up with numerous new designs and models to attract new customers. It was an unsaid rule that driving an obsolete car was the worst social sin. This led to a large number of persons selling their cars to junkyards. There were many instances of automobiles being abandoned as well.

The business of buying scrapped cars, stripping it of all its useful parts and selling the same to those in need of used parts first began in the first decade of the twentieth century. By late 1920’s, auto salvage yards and junk yards had become very common. By 1963, there were 32,000 salvage yards for automobiles in America. The post war boom in the automobile industry was a significant factor in the rapid development of salvage yards.

Jc Whitney Auto parts store started as a scrap metal yard in 1915, but today it has grew to become the largest direct marketer of everything automotive.

In 1921, four Navy buddies pooled together $800 to open a single auto parts supply store in Philadelphia. This venture would go on to become the multibillion-dollar nationwide retails and service chain that is known as Pep Boys today. With over 600 stores across the U.S. and Puerto Rico, the Company has come a long way from its humble beginnings.

Founded in 1925, NAPA has a world-class auto parts distribution system, including 6000 NAPA Auto Parts stores, 69 distribution centers and more than 12000 affiliated NAPA AutoCare repair facilities.

Many of the parts initially produced for automobiles were provided by the manufacturers themselves, through mail order. As more, and more builders of other products, with similar application to the automobile began to get into the business, small local providers began to appear. Not only are some of the original parts stores still open today, as well as are some of the original manufacturers of automobile parts. Makers like Raybestos, Bosch, Dunlop, and Firestone still continue to mass produce the products required for the automobile. And because the internal combustion engine runs on gasoline, many other industries employ people related, in some way, to the automobile.

New jobs due to the impact of the automobile such as fast food, city/highway construction, state patrol/police, convenience stores, gas stations, auto repair shops, auto shops, etc. allow more employment for the world’s growing population.

The ripple effect this industry has on related industries leads to even more profit and job creation. Auto manufacturing is an industry that drives numerous other industries. As a result, auto sales not only create jobs within the industry; they are the catalyst for profits and jobs in other related industries such as steel, rubber and computers.

No invention has had a greater impact on our culture than the automobile. In the nineteenth century, people were generally isolated from one another. The car gave them freedom, allowing people to explore the world beyond their neighborhoods. Many new jobs were created as a result of the automobile. In the 1920s, declining prices and a new system of “buying on credit” allowed more people than ever before to own a car.

There are currently 40,335 auto parts stores in the United States, with a total yearly revenue of $39,923,400. These stores employ 319,948 people, and are expected to have a projected revenue growth of 2.5 percent.

The resilient Auto Parts Stores industry will continue to grow at a slow and steady pace over the next five years. Weak labor and credit markets, depressed new vehicle sales and the increasing average length of vehicle ownership actually grew the industry, as consumers chose to buy parts themselves and make their own repairs. Commercial sales will also be a critical growth segment and will contribute to future growth.