Our Industry Heritage: Recognition and Preservation
SEMA is an industry collective representing all facets of the specialty aftermarket, and we are fortunate that our industry is also part of a rich American automotive culture. In this issue of SEMA News, we honor individuals who have made a distinct contribution to our industry through invention, innovative practices or conspicuously outstanding service. Their stories will be added to the trove of life stories we admire in the SEMA Hall of Fame. But the Hall of Fame is just one way in which the association seeks to gather and preserve our industry’s unique slice of automotive history and heritage. SEMA is working on other fronts as well.
From the early days of the “speed equipment industry,” the people and companies who pioneered American car culture changed the way our country relates to its cars and vehicles of all types. The specialty aftermarket has created trends that rippled through our nation and are today reflected in the way our cars are styled and equipped.
One of the ways these trends were documented was through enthusiast media publications, many of which no longer exist today. During that era, a small army of magazine photographers, editors and publishers hung out at shops, went to custom car shows, attended races, tested products and came back with stories and photographs that documented the evolution of the enthusiast lifestyle. Most of these materials accumulated without much concern for archiving or retrieval. As companies moved or were sold, collections of negatives, photos and written captures were often left behind or thrown away. Fortunately, there were some exceptions.
Today, stored in the basement of the Petersen Museum, there are extensive files of negatives from magazines such as Hot Rod and Street Rodder, plus dozens of pallets stacked with boxes of photographs as well as file cabinets jammed with story folders. All told, there are hundreds of thousands of images, notebooks full of negatives, and file cabinets from more than 50 long-running magazines. Those materials were recently acquired by the museum, and now a multi-year plan is in process to preserve those potentially historic assets. Archivists have been hired, servers installed and a significant number of materials are being successfully digitized and cataloged each month. The goal is for the Petersen Museum to create a platform that permits outside access—including for SEMA members—with SEMA pitching in to help jumpstart the process.
Regular readers will probably be aware that images from this trove of materials has permitted SEMA News to share retrospective accounts of our industry’s heritage in every issue. Moving forward, there will be much more to draw from.
On another front, an effort is now in the fledgling phase to compile the “life stories” of our industry’s companies—how they started, what led to their success, key moments in their history, and what roles were played by the people involved. As many are aware, a good number of aftermarket companies were launched by the combination of an enthusiast, one great idea…and a garage. Many family startups failed, but many persisted, succeeded and grew into very visible businesses that are with us today. Wouldn’t it be great to compile as many of those stories as possible and share them as widely as possible with those in our industry and the general public as well?
Our hope is that by helping to grow these sorts of efforts we can look back at the risks taken, the sacrifices made, and remind ourselves that vision, passion—plus courage and hard work—can lead to great things.