In the 20th century, for the first time in history, everyone was his own historian. The camera made it possible. The wealthy and powerful were no longer the only ones who could leave a visual legacy. You could, too.
Today the Monitor draws on this bountiful visual legacy as we begin a monthly series on photographs of the 20th century, courtesy of Monitor readers.
As we reviewed the images supplied by readers, themes emerged. In this first selection, we focus on the role of the automobile as an American icon. What other object in our personal photo archives has been depicted so consistently?
In these pictures, taken between 1914 and 1972, the automobile is present in many ways: as a mere machine, a status symbol, an image of progress, a toy, a playground.
In these photos one can also trace the development of the photographic "language." Early in the century, photos were formal portraits or historical documents. But as people grew more comfortable with the technology - and cameras became easier to use - photos became more playful. By the time we reached the 1950s and '60s, any moment was potentially worth a photo.
Next month: Milestones - from the San Francisco earthquake to watching astronauts walk on the moon.
1) BUFFALO, WYO. ~ JUNE 1, 1933 Photographer: Joanna Corpe Agnes Corpe and Leland Van Auken were preparing to drive East for their honeymoon two days after their wedding on May 30, 1933. The couple left from Buffalo, Wyo., and stopped at Badlands, S.D., the World's Fair in Chicago, and Niagara Falls before arriving at Mr. Van Auken's parents' home in Albany, N.Y. The photographer was Agnes's mother.
2) COVINA, CALIF. ~ OCTOBER 1936 Photographer: Alvin Eager Millie Cawlfield (l.) sits on the running board of the family car with her brothers Robin (ctr.) and Fred Eager. Their father, Alvin Eager, a landscape architect at the time, took the photo while on a leisurely trip to the country for a walk and a picnic.
3) CONEY ISLAND, N.Y. ~ 1915 Studio photographer unknown Virginia Halliday (ctr.) sits next to her father and sisters Dorothy (r.) and Grace. Mother is in back. Soon after this studio shot was taken (the car and scenery are props), Mr. Halliday bought a Ford. Virginia recalls riding in it along Brooklyn's Flatbush Avenue - and her father being stopped by a policeman on horseback for going too slowly.
4) MERRILL, WIS. ~ WINTER 1914 Photographer unknown Farmers Gustave Voight (seated in the car on the left) and his neighbor (seated in the other car) couldn't wait to hop into their new Ford automobiles. Ironically, winter conditions on State Highway 107 at the time meant that their new autos had to be delivered by the only means possible: horse-drawn sleds.
5) ALTOONA, WIS. ~ CA. 1928 Photographer unknown Rudy Botsford is being spanked in good fun on his 21st birthday by friend Hugh Raymond. Others in the group are (l. to r.) Ruth Muenchow, Frances Larson, and Grace Sorenson. Hugh and Frances were later married.
6) SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO ~ 1965 Photographer: Kendra Santuccio Mrs. Santuccio took this picture of her sons John (l.) and Michael with their toy fire engine. Michael, she notes, went on to work for the California Division of Forestry for 15 years - 1