This film is part of Free

Man at the Wheel

By 1937 the American lifestyle promised pleasure at home and adventure on the road: this entertaining film shows how the country was coping with some unforeseen hazards.

Anthology 1938 19 mins


The sheepish expression on the face of a butcher, caught out as a short-measure cheat, is just one of the incidental pleasures in this issue, which champions consumer rights, condemns unscrupulous shopkeepers and shows how new methods in science and education could improve the quality of modern American life. Particularly engaging are the dramatic shots from the Mellon Institute showing mattresses, textiles and hats being stretched and pummelled in wear and tear tests.

By 1937, as the ‘Man at the Wheel’ story points out, an automobile had become ‘a family necessity’ in the USA. With the rise in vehicle ownership came a year on year increase in road deaths: 39,500 fatalities in 1937. Designs for new roads, better signs and education in schools had all helped reduce the tally by 1938. Some of the more outlandish ideas proposed in this issue - that traffic regulated by microwaves could make collision impossible - never came to pass but the sight of hundreds of cars, on brand new highways, crystallises an aspirational vision of a modern nation of pleasure-seeking consumers, travelling in safety to beaches, national parks and campsites, to pursue a life of leisure and happiness.