How Old Cars Were Heated

LaidLaw Motor Robes

LaidLaw Motor Robes, The Evening Star, Washington, D.C. December 11, 1923

Nobody really thinks about it today. If your car is too cold, then simply switch on the “heater” and soon your car will be warm. However, it wasn’t always that way. What passengers did back then, in the early days of motoring, was bundle up as if one was outdoors. This meant heavy clothing, winter gloves and snow boots. It wasn’t long, however, before car makers realized that a few comforts, like heat in the passenger compartment, or even some type of heated seating, would help sell cars.

vintage car in snow

Circa 1920 Hudson Six with Maryland Dealer License Plate No. 618 on front. Photo by Lewis Reed

In order for occupants of early 1920’s cars to remain warm during the cold winter months, especially when it was snowing, it was necessary for them to dress warmly and cover themselves with blankets. Note the car in the photo below is mostly open-bodied, with no windows and certainly no heat. Tire chains are on the rear tires. I cannot say with any certainty, but I believe it is Lewis Reed’s car with his wife and baby daughter, Mary Jane, sitting inside all bundled up.

early cars without heaters

Buffalo Zoo Bear Pits, Buffalo, New York, ca. early 1920s. Photo by Lewis Reed.

While this had been the accepted way to do things for centuries, it did not take long for automotive engineers to realize that heat from the car engine could also be used to warm the interior of the vehicle. Heaters became standard equipment on the more expensive cars and over time they were fitted to most cars. You could buy and fit after market car heaters to suit cheaper cars like the Fords and Chevrolets.

vintage car in snow

There weren’t heaters in these old cars, so motorists had to really bundle up. Photo by Lewis Reed

Below are some advertisements from an Automotive magazine of 1922 that show the two different ways motorists used to keep warm – the rug and the heater.

An essential appointment in your own car. A seasonable gift for a friend.

You have your car insured against every possible contingency of accident, fire, theft, etc.,—but how about its occupants– can you guarantee their comfort against winter’s storm and cold?

LAIDLAW MOTOR ROBES are COLD INSURANCE, you pay no premiums on their price, yet you receive protection of warmth, comfort and luxury.

LAIDLAW MOTOR ROBES are made in an infinite variety of color and fabric, lined or not, as you wish. Monogrammed at but slight additional cost. Prices exceptionally low. Quality exceptionally high. Order now for holiday gifts.

Comfortable Driving at Zero!

THE KINGSTON CAR HEATER stands between you and the coldest wind that blows. It is a heater that keeps your car warm at zero weather, that warms the car with pure, fresh air, that can be instantly adjusted to meet your wants, that is beautifully and substantially built — an ornament to any car.

Note the new low price

DEALERS everywhere should order their stock of Kingston Heaters at once. Last year when cold weather came the demand was so great that some orders were delayed. This year, with greatly increased production, with a finer heater, and with the new low price the sales of Kingston Heaters will break all records.

FORD Model Complete $3.75
Chevrolet, Overland, Dodge $5.00

Kingston Car Heater

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About Reed Brothers

I am a co-owner of the former Reed Brothers Dodge in Rockville, Maryland. Lewis Reed, the founder of Reed Brothers Dodge was my grandfather. We were a family-owned and operated car dealership in Rockville for almost a century. I served in the United States Air Force for 30 years before retiring in the top enlisted grade of Chief Master Sergeant in July 2006. In 2016, I received the Arthur M. Wagman Award for Historic Preservation Communication from Peerless Rockville for documenting the history of Reed Brothers Dodge in both blog and book format. This distinguished honor recognizes outstanding achievement by writers, educators, and historians whose work has heightened public awareness of Rockville’s architectural and cultural heritage, growth and development.

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