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The Beginnings Of Car Hire

May 31, 2008
Virtually as soon as there were cars, there were car hire companies. The year was 1926 and a businessman had arrived in town in Nebraska. He would be staying for a few weeks and had arranged a date with a local girl. Desperate to impress, he borrowed a Form Model T from Joe Saunders.

Joe fixed a mileage meter to the left front wheel of his car and hired it to the businessman for ten cents a mile. And thus began the first car hire business. Within two years Walter Jacobs had given Saunders his first bit of competition when he set up a fleet of twelve Model T cars and opened up his own car hire business in Chicago.

Just five years later this business was said to be worth $1 million in annual revenue. Car hire companies enjoyed continued growth over the next few years but the general public were very wary. Particularly during the prohibition. They were used to open forms of transport such as horse and carts and now they were faced with closed in vehicles that made people nervous.

During this time they were seen as the tools for criminal activities. It was believed they were used by bootleggers for smuggling alcohol around the country. They may well have been! Being able to travel at greater speeds than a policeman on a pushbike was always going to be an advantage whilst bootlegging.

It was also believed that car hire vehicles were used by bank robbers. True, also. Any event - criminal or otherwise - that required a speedy exit would have benefitted from one of these vehicles. Unlike today, it wasn't the done thing for everybody to own a car. This privilege was for the elite that could afford, or even wanted one. With such little trust in the image they conveyed, many people chose to stick with public transport.

Prostitution was another concern of those in opposition to car hire. Again, this was highly possible. This was an easy form of private transport, quick access to secluded roadways that were mostly unlit and in the comfort that most people who have ever owned a car have found out, a private place to do your canoodling.

After the 18th Amendment was repealed in 1933, the car hire industry began to gain a more respectable reputation. People were becoming accustomed to seeing these machines on the road and the ease and speed that they introduced was becoming more widely accepted.

After the second world war there was no looking back for the car hire industry. Thanks to a boom in the airline industry and the introduction of the fly-drive facility, it was becoming second nature to rent a car to complete your journey. Car hire companies were springing up all over the place and were prevalent around airports.

Up to the current day and the internet has improved advertising and competition beyond recognition. If you were to type 'car hire' into Google and you would find nearly seventeen million possible pages that include the word car hire. It would seem there are no longer any concerns over the validity of this business.
About the Author
Expert historian Catherine Harvey looks at the history of car hire and how opinions towards it have changed.
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