Today I saw a large photo of downtown Medford taken in the early 1900s. In it are a number of automobiles, as well as horse-drawn carriages. In the autos, I noticed, the steering wheels were on the right side instead of the left as they are now. Apparently the auto industry made a change from right to left somewhere along the line. Any idea as to when that may have occurred and why?
— Robert J., Ashland
Excellent question, Robert. The right-hand vs. left-hand drive debate extends a long time before automobiles existed. Some people speculate that because the majority of people were — and still are — right-handed, they rode their horses and carriages on the left side of the road so that if they met with an unsavory character on the road, they could defend themselves more easily with their sword in their right hand.
According to the car experts at the Western Antique Aeroplane & Automobile Museum in Hood River, the United States switched to left-hand drive cars because of Henry Ford.
The WAAAM says that when automobiles first started appearing on roads, there was no uniformity in steering-wheel placement. Ford's Model T cars were made with left-hand drive. Ford flooded the market with left-hand drive vehicles and, eventually, consumers began to expect left-hand drive cars. The American auto industry has been uniform on the matter since about 1913.
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