The history of auto mechanics began in 1800s Europe with the creation of the first cars. According to History.com, Europeans perfected the first modern automobile by 1901. These late-1800s makers of cars can be considered the first auto mechanics. They engineered, designed, and built the first successful automobiles, launching a trade for likeminded individuals in centuries to come.
Because the early European automobiles were advanced – compared to American automobiles – but not standardized, car owners faced the difficult task of finding people who could repair this just-invented machine. Mostly upper-classmen, lucky automobile owners could find a driver who also had specialized knowledge in maintaining cars.
These drivers/mechanics not only saved their employers from car-repair headaches; they also played an important role in merging the gap between the upper and lower class. According to the International Association of Mechanists and Aerospace Workers (IAM), upper-class car-owners recognized the specialized knowledge of their drivers, opening up a new level of pay and privilege for carriage drivers and footmen willing to learn the trade.
History.com credits American Henry Ford with perfecting efficient automobile-making. While Ford vehicles weren’t as advanced as European cars, the standardized parts allowed them to be faster to make and cheaper to buy, introducing the automobile to a new market.
As more and more automobiles were produced and put into use, dealerships and private businesses began offering mechanic services. And with standardized parts, the auto mechanic trade became easier to learn.
IAM explains that competition grew quickly between mechanic businesses – and even individual mechanics – as most were paid by the hour. The most experienced mechanics worked faster, resulting in lower costs to the owner and more business for the mechanic or dealer.
As the Great Depression hit, auto sales declined, and the market – including auto maintenance and production – was pressed to continue making a profit despite its inability to evolve until demand increased.
During this time of still-early car maintenance, one of the most popular and noticed auto body tools, paint, was often handled by the owner. According to Eastwood.com, paint on early- to mid-1900s automobiles was far less durable than the paints available today. Therefore, cars needed frequent touch-ups for protection from the elements. Car owners would paint their automobiles by hand with brushes. Runs and finish imperfections were common even on cars directly out of the assembly line, so owners had little reason to hire an individual auto body mechanic to conduct paint repairs.
To resist market stagnation and the do-it-yourself mindset around auto body repair, History.com notes that Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., is responsible for the focus on automobile style. With a plan to drive new-car demand, Sloan essentially created the cosmetic side of the auto body industry by creating the market’s desire to have the latest, most fashionable model of an automobile. Those who couldn’t afford the latest model, however, considered alternatives to achieving a higher level of automobile style, making way for the auto body repair industry. From this point forward, -individuals in the auto industry could begin to focus on auto body or auto mechanics (or both), creating a lasting split in the industry.
With automobiles continuing to advance, and the industry continuing to grow in America, the changes in the auto mechanics and body repair industry are largely driven by technology. As the vehicles become more advanced, efficient, powerful, and long-living, auto mechanics working in the field are constantly learning.
With auto-travel continuing to dominate American society, auto mechanics and body repair continue to advance as trade and career choices for those passionate about vehicles, from operation to style.
Want to take your interest in cars to the next level? Explore the Automotive Service and Repair program at Apex.
*Apex Technical School and its instructors are licensed by the New York State Education Department.
Disclaimer: Apex Technical School provides training for entry-level jobs. Not everything you may read about the industry is covered in our training programs.