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Kaitlyn L. Benson – “Advertising in Motion: The Use of Industrial films in American Automobile Advertising, 1930 – 55”


The industrial exchanges in the manufacturing and marketing of the automobile and the production of the motion picture film in the United States in the first half of the twentieth century created a relationship that is often overlooked.  Both technologies were developed in the final decade of the 19th century and quickly exploited their shared potential for motion.  The mobility of the automobile made it one of the favourite stars of early films.  In turn, automobile companies capitalized on the motion picture’s popularity and its capacity for highlighting one of the car’s most valued attributes: mobility.

In spite of this relationship, industrial car advertisements have largely been discounted as viable historical sources.  This paper will therefore undertake a preliminary examination of a collection of industrial car advertisements sponsored by General Motors and Chevrolet from 1930 to the 1950s.  Using a framework of literature on U.S. car and advertising culture this paper will demonstrate that these films fit within some of the broader trends of American advertising of the period.  However, these films were also used to promote cultural values and ideologies that applied specifically to the car and to address any public concerns regarding automobiles.  The contradictions between the values attached to the car and the anxieties felt by the public as demonstrated in these films show some the conflicts inherent to the car, such as the contradictions between speed and safety, freedom and responsibility, and wealth and consumption.