Car Rental History

Car rental history

Whether you’ve flown to an unfamiliar place or need a replacement while your car is in the shop, chances are you’ve had to rent a car at some point in your life. Rental cars have a long and written history that is closely related to the history of the automobile industry and America itself. As times have changed, so have rental cars – and they remain an important part of the auto industry to this day.

The true beginnings of car rental are unknown, but many believe that the first true car rental agency began with the Model T, the first mass-produced car. The first rental agency was allegedly owned by a Nebraskan man named Joe Saunders, who would rent his Model T at ten cents a mile. Saunders used the odometer to determine the distance his car had traveled. Legend has it that Saunders’ first hire went to a traveling salesman who wanted to impress a girl on a date.

Whatever the case, Saunders certainly had the first widely successful car rental agency. By 1925, his company had rental agencies in 21 states. However, the Great Depression meant that many people no longer needed rental cars, and Saunders went bankrupt.

While Saunders was establishing his company, a man named Walter Jacobs was also starting his own Model T rental service. Jacobs fared much better than Saunders. Eventually he sold his company to Yellow Cap owner John Hertz. Then General Motors bought Hertz. Today Hertz Rent a Car is the largest car rental company in the world.

Rental cars suffered from a bad reputation during Prohibition, as many believed they were used to transport criminals. After the repeal of Prohibition, the car rental industry enjoyed a better reputation, and expanded greatly.

The industry grew even more after World War II, as the growing popularity of airlines for business travel meant that more people needed a car for their business trips. Hertz anticipated this trend by opening a rental facility at Chicago’s Midway Airport in 1932. Avis is credited with being the first rental company to focus on airports as its primary business source. The company’s founder, Warren Avis, was a former Army pilot, and focused nearly all of their business on the airports and surrounding areas. Another successful company launched during this time was National Car Rental System, Inc. , which was among the founders of Joe Saunders himself.

In the 1970s and 1980s, rental car companies began selling their vintage cars, which led to companies like Hertz also becoming major used car dealers. At this point, the major auto manufacturers started buying many used car companies in an effort to ensure that these companies would buy their cars from them in the first place.

The car rental industry took a hit when air travel slowed after the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001, but it has made a huge comeback in recent years. The growing amount of business conducted online means that it is now possible to book a rental car online, making it easier than ever to rent a car. As long as Americans need a car waiting for them… there will be rental cars.

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