Skip to content

Automotive Era

By the 1910s more dealers were selling cars and more people were driving. Roads were improved, gas stations were opened, and auto mechanics stepped up to make repairs. How we got to work and where we worked changed dramatically.

Railroad Workers Were Still in Demand

Despite the rising popularity of auto travel, rail transportation remained prominent. Laborers and skilled crafts workers at McLean County's largest employer, the Chicago & Alton Railroad shops, were still needed.


  • Carl Samuels, (1906 – 2005), African American, C&A scrap laborer
  • John Whittington, (1865 – 1941), C&A painter
  • Joseph D. Penn, (1898 – 1987), C&A superintendent

Powering Rural Communities

Bloomington residents began to electrify their homes in the late 1880s. But rural McLean County residents had to wait.


  • Walter R. Steward, (1892 – 1960), electric lineman and manager

Building Better Roads

Automotive travel created a demand for better roads, as rural dirt roads could not withstand the increased use. Road maintenance and construction jobs increased.


  • Louis J. Schultze, (1882 – 1942), road oiler
  • Clarence Rowe, (1874 – 1929), construction

Mechanics Needed!

Travel by automobile and truck meant the demise of jobs that utilized horses. McLean County needed workers for auto sales and service.


  • Carl “Swede” Anderson, (1901 – 1967), mechanic

Selling Cars and Taking Flight

As automobiles gained popularity, the number of car dealers grew. But dealers needed capital in ordered to invest in such a business. Often these were individuals who were already successful business owners. Air travel took off in McLean County as early as the mid-1930s, but was mostly limited to charter flights until well after World War II.


  • Charles Urban “C.U.” Williams, (1867 – 1953), photographer and car salesman
  • Art F. Carnahan, (1903 – 1974), mechanic and pilot

Changing Shipping Practices

Many business owners continued to use the railroad to ship their products. But the trucking of goods meant products to regional and national markets.


  • Dora Giese, (1919 – 1983), Beich candy worker
  • Arthur Johnson, (1901 – 1952), washing machine assembly worker
  • Roy Yanney, (1896 – 1969), Williams Oil-O-Matic factory worker

Service Providers

Before the 1950s working as a domestic servant was one of the few jobs available to African American women.


  • Alverta Duff, (1885 – 1968), African American, housekeeper and nanny
  • Albin B. Kron, (1890 – 1958), mail delivery person

Demand for Communication Services Increased

Telephone operators were first employed in 1874, when Bloomington business lines were installed. As the technology improved and expanded into private homes, the need for operators grew.


  • Marguerite (1896-1958) and Geraldine “Gerry” McKeon (1895-1975), telephone operators

Insuring the Automobile

The insurance industry grew rapidly in McLean County, providing many jobs for salesmen, clerks, secretaries, and more.


  • Marie Iery Huffman, (1914 – 2001), system analyst at State Farm
  • George Jacob “GJ” Mecherle, (1877 – 1951), founder of State Farm