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1915 DodgeAt the farm-market in Greenfield Hill today, a restored 1915 Dodge pulled up, and as the wife browsed the corn and tomatoes, hubby gave our family a quick tour of the car.

What struck me was how close the user-interface is to today's. Gear selection was via a floor-mounted shift-lever on the driver's right, with gears 1-3 and reverse in an H-pattern. The gas/brake/clutch petals were arranged right-to-left on the floor. Steering was via a hand-controlled wheel. Round tick-marked analog gauges indicated speed, RPMs, electrical current, oil pressure.

Essentially, today's UI is unchanged from this setup (excepting the automatic transmission, popular with Californians who need a free hand for the cell phone). The driver of a 1915 Dodge could step into a modern auto, nearly 100 years later, and operate it immediately.

When I remarked on this, the owner told me that in the years just before 1915, there was widespread experimentation with user-interfaces in the auto industry, and the 1915 Dodge's layout was the design that "stuck."

The QWERTY keyboard comes to mind as a parallel. And I wonder if the computer GUIs of 100 years hence will still involve overlapping windows, icons of running programs at the bottom, pulldown menus at the top, left-click to select, right-click for context menus…

Arthur Cooper adds:

The experimentation period is illustrated by the autos in the collection of the National Auto Museum in Reno NV. It's definitely worth a visit.

Alan Millhone writes:    

I have a four-door 1948 Chevy that needs restoration. The motor is frozen (not original, a re-built Sears six-banger). The car is an antique, which makes me one as well — '48 is my birth year!


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