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War killed the ‘a-woo-gah!’ Klaxon car horn

A book on the Klaxon automobile horn shows how consumers are led toward technological solutions for the problems technology creates. (Credit: Tom Stohlman/Flickr)

A new book chronicles the rise and fall of the Klaxon automobile horn, one of the first great electrical consumer technologies of the 20th century.

The book, Danger Sound Klaxon! The Horn That Changed History (University of Virginia Press, 2023) shares how the metallic shriek of the horn first shocked pedestrians, improving safety, and how savvy advertising strategies convinced consumers across the United States and western Europe to adopt the horn as the safest signaling technology available in the 1910s.

The shrill-sounding horn improved early automobile safety and provided a positive impact for a communications technology, writes author Matt Jordan, associate professor and head of the department of film production and media studies at Penn State. The book chronicles how the technology went awry because of world events.

The widespread use of Klaxons in the trenches of World War I transformed how the public heard the car horn, according to Jordan, and its traumatic association with gas attacks ultimately doomed this once ubiquitous consumer technology.

By charting the meteoric rise and eventual fall of the Klaxon, Danger Sound Klaxon! highlights how perceptions of sound-producing technologies are guided by, manipulated, and transformed through advertising strategies, public debate, consumer reactions, and governmental regulations. Jordan’s book demonstrates how consumers are led toward technological solutions for problems themselves created by technology.

Source: Penn State