Back in the Depression, and even before, Americans were having anxieties about just what the "age of the automobile" and the era of the automatic gun would mean to the quality of life. Here with his biting and strangely prophetic take on what some rightwingers now claim are our two top "inalienable rights" - the car and the gun - is Will Rogers.
Will Rogers on Henry Ford and the Automobile
(comments made before 1935)
"There is more money invested in garages than in schools and churches. 98.5% of the building permits in small towns are for filling stations. Over two-thirds of the unemployed in this country are working in filling stations. If people slept in filling stations instead of just driving by them, it would solve the housing problem of this country.
"There are 300,000 men just pumping gas into cars every minute of the day in America alone...193,000 just fixing punctures...800,000 just looking on, with 750,000 of 'em offering advice - .009% successfully...[There's]187,000 people every minute of the day just cranking the old ones [Model Ts and Model As], 81 with results. There is 43,000 just holding up the hoods of Fords looking at them, 42,598 with the same expression.
"[Henry] Ford made a car that runs with your feet instead of your head and hands. He was smart enough to know more people knew how to use their feet than they do their head or hands. He has made more business for an undertaker than any other one thing, with the exception of Prohibition. Monday moprning after a beautiful sunshiny Sunday finds the undertaker singing at his work.
"He has caused more people to go into debt than for rent or food. He has drove more states, counties, towns, and federal governments into debt than the World War. We owe more for roads than we did to persuade the Germans to 'Please leave Belgium.' Had we no good roads, we would miss all the scandal in the Highway Department. No state ever worries about who will be governor - it's who will be on the highway commission? I care not who writes a nation's songs: give me the highway contracts to deal out and I will show you what hard work, perseverances and taking advantage of your opportunities will do. He has given us our second biggest problem we have today, namely: 'After it's parked (and you come back and get it), how am I going to get home in it through the traffic?' That's why so many people leave 'em parked.
Great educators try to teach poeople, preachers try to change people, but no man produced through the accepted channels has moved the world like Henry Ford. He put wheels on our homes - a man's castle is his sedan; life's greatest catastrophe is a puncture. Americans don't fear the Lord as much as they do the next payment. Everybody is rushing to get somewhere where they have no business being, so they can hurry back again to the place they should never have left.
"So good luck, Mr. Ford. It will take a hundred years to tell whether you have helped us or hurt us, but you certainly didn't leave us like you found us."
Will Rogers on The Automatic Pistol
"In the old Wild West days, the bandit had to back out of the bank shooting and make it to his horse by the blaze of his guns. Now, any young man can just walk up with no mask, no western hat, no big forty-five, just a little automatic, which a baby can shoot as well as Billy the Kid could - all you do is point and keep the trigger pulled and you hit everything in the place. There's no possible way you can miss any part of anyone in the building - the more nervous you are, the more you hit.
"If there is one thing that has increased crime, it's been the automatic pistol. It's made no practice necessary to be an outlaw. Give any young egotist two shots of dope and an automatic and he will hold up the government mint. He goes in, gets his money quicker than you can get it with a bona-fide check. Out he comes. His partner has his car running and away they go - perhaps to their country home or their golf club. The toughest part to robbing nowadays is to find somebody that has something to steal. The minute a robber gets a clue, why the rest is easy. Now that's about the routine of the modern robbery, and murder is along the same routine. Of course, it's a little more expensive on account of having to use a little more ammunition."
(From "The Wit and Wisdom of Will Rogers," edited by Alex Ayres, Meridian Books 1993