Station wagons were first introduced to American suburbanites as a way of transportation to and from the railroad station. Commuters would pile into the wagons, made mainly by Ford Motorcar Company, early in the morning to go to the railroad station, and be returned to their home in the country by them in the evening. After World War I, more and more Americans were buying cars for themselves, and station wagon use by railroad companies declined rapidly. However, as more people began to move to suburbia, American car manufacturers saw a definite market for the privately owned station wagon (Mendel 127). The 1930s were the first time American manufacturers offered station wagons as part of their ranges. By 1941, all popular makers were listing station wagons (Mendel 127). The price for the first mass-produced station wagon, a 1929 Ford Model A, was $650. A photo of the 1929 Model A is shown here. A station wagon in 1940 cost just over $1,000. Today, America's best-selling station wagon, which is also the best selling car in America, the Ford Taurus, can be purchased for a price ranging between $19,680 and $22,000, depending what options the buyer wants (Dunne 47).
Station wagons were originally steel car chassis with frames and bodies made of wood. Now they are composed almost entirely of steel. The interior is almost the only part of the car that has other materials in addition to steel. Its seats, dashboard, and steering wheel are made of a variety of materials, the most prominent being fabrics of polyester, plastic, or leather, plastic, and foam(Roberts).
The construction of station wagons centers mainly on how many people they can hold. They are designed to hold at least five people very comfortably, and some wagons are capable of holding up to nine people, each with a seat belt. Early station wagons were designed to enable a standard sheet of plywood to lay down flat in the cargo bay (Holcombe). Many wagons are designed with a roof rack, should the size of an object exceed that of the wagon's interior. Almost every station wagon has back seats that are able to be folded down, so when the car is not loaded with people, the cargo bay's size can be increased for additional space. Station wagons have been mass produced since 1929; in earlier years, they had to be custom made (Mendel 127).
Station wagons have come a long way from the boxy, wooden cars they once were. Today, station wagons are sleek and streamlined, just like smaller, sportier cars. Shown here is a 1996 Ford Escort station wagon. The difference in streamlining from 1929 to 1996 is striking. Only recently, however, has this streamlining hit the mainstream. Well into the 1980s, station wagons resembled the big, boxy, and cumbersome vehicles they have been known to be.
The family station wagon has many functions. First and foremost, a station wagon provides the family with a comfortable vehicle that can hold the entire family as well as the belongings they need for a vacation. They can hold all the groceries in addition to the lawn mower, lumber, and other big items the family needs. Families have also been known to use the station wagon as a home away from home. They are perfect for camping trips, because the cargo bay can be turned into a bed if need be. One of the most familiar functions of station wagons is their employment during "tailgate" parties. At football games and concerts station wagons are perfect for having picnics before or after the big event. Even simple picnics in the park or countryside became a little more exciting when they were centered around the station wagon. The photo to the left shows the open tailgate of a 1940 Ford Deluxe Station Wagon. When the middle and rear seats of it were removed, the amount of cargo space in the car increased significantly. This versatility was one of the most attractive features of station wagons to suburbanites.
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