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Taking the Wheel: Manufacturers' Catalogs from the First Decade of American Automobiles

Several hundred photomechanical reproductions from the pages of motor vehicle (automobiles and some trucks) manufacturers' catalogs from 1909, in the first decade of the automobile industry. Primarily monochrome, interspersed with surprisingly lavish color plates, the images include parts diagrams, engine works, and model inventory.

Collection Contents  |  Related Subjects

[People riding their Franklin automobile in the woods on all sorts of roads]. Digital ID: 1159951 [People riding their Franklin automobile in the woods on all sorts of roads]. Digital ID: 1159951

Collection History

This digital presentation offers a sampling from the year 1909 of the Science, Industry and Business Library's (SIBL) extensive collection of manufacturers' catalogs and price lists. The entire collection numbers in excess of 8,000 pieces, covers the first three decades of the 20th century, and represents most American and many foreign makes. The tremendous proliferation of these catalogs after the 1930s precluded further acquisition by SIBL so that since 1940 it has not collected shop manuals and service bulletins published by automobile manufacturers. However, SIBL now provides free on-site access to automobile repair manuals from 1982 on, via online databases.


While automobile catalogs and photographs of early automobiles are a particular highlight of the collection, all aspects of transportation are reflected in the Science, Industry and Business Library. Starting with 17th century works illustrating naval architecture and carriage design, and continuing through spacecraft images, detailed descriptions of the means of movement of people and materials are available. Early French imprints provide colorful illustrations of ballooning expeditions and aviation journals illustrate the most current advances in air and space travel. William Barclay Parsons, who was the chief engineer of the New York City Subway system and a member of the Board of the Library from 1911-1932, left his valuable book collection to the New York Public Library, which included a wealth of rare titles dealing with all aspects of transportation with an emphasis on railways and canals.

Unlike academic libraries, NYPL collects a wide variety of industry newsletters and journals that document the day-to-day business activities of companies in the transportation sector. Histories of individual companies constitute a large and useful part of the collection. In addition, obscure offshoots of transportation such as the buggy whip industry are also represented, as are experimental design illustrations for bicycles, airplanes, ships, submarines and a host of modes of transport.

Related Resources

Chambers, Roy. Some Early Motoring Advertisements (1969).

Garrett, Howard. The Poster Book of Antique Auto Ads, 1898-1920 (c1974, 1975).

Roberts, Peter. Any Colour So Long as It's Black: the First Fifty Years of Automobile Advertising (c1976).

Stern, Jane and Michael Stern. Auto Ads (c1978).

Library Division(s)

NYPL Digital Gallery provides free and open access to over 800,000 images digitized from primary sources and printed rarities in the vast collections of The New York Public Library, including drawings, illuminated manuscripts, historical maps, vintage posters, rare prints and photographs, illustrated books, printed ephemera, and more.