Stealing Cars: Technology and Society, from the Model T to Today


Stealing Cars: Technology and Society, from the Model T to Today

This event occurred in the past

Date and Time

Tuesday, April 19, 2011 from 12:15 p.m. to 1:45 p.m.


Institute for Peace & Justice, Room 253

5998 Alcala Park San Diego, CA 92110




The USD Department of History cordially invites you to a research colloquium by John A. Heitmann, PhD, professor of history at the University of Dayton, and USD’s 2001 Knapp Chair in the Liberal Arts.

Stealing Cars: Technology and Society, from the Model T to Today

Dr. Heitmann first uncovered the topic of auto theft when piecing together sections of what became his book, The Automobile and American Life. The scale of pre-WWII auto theft simply astounded him, along with the characters involved. It was a story about cars, anti-theft devices, teenagers, hardened criminals, the police, the insurance industry, and J. Edgar Hoover. The history of automobile theft in 20th century America bridges the interstices between science, economics, technology, and society. As such, it is a powerful handle in exploring the development of a variety of anti-theft technological countermeasures; institutional rejoinders from government, the insurance industry, and manufacturers; and, finally, criminal motives, techniques, and organization. Upon further reading, it seemed that during every era authorities proclaimed that auto theft had been largely solved.  Yet, subsequent to every announcement, new criminal strategies thwarted the best of efforts, and the problem became bigger than ever.

This presentation will examine how auto theft has occurred over time, why, by whom, and the responses. This work is a history of technology, but also of a society that is continuously assaulted by the crime and constantly regrouping to meet the challenge.  At the same time, we as Americans are conflicted over whether to demonize the thieves or applaud their ingenuity and courage.

You may bring your own lunch. Cookies and drinks will be provided.

Contact Information

James T. Harris III, DEd
Office of the President

Hughes Center 222
5998 Alcalá Park
San Diego, CA 92110

Phone: (619) 260-4520
Fax: (619) 260-6833

Office Hours

8 a.m. - 5 p.m.