In Photos: When Belgium ruled the car

In Photos: When Belgium ruled the car
Credit: Erfgoedbank Brussel

In modern-day Brussels, cars are a somewhat divisive issue.

While emptying areas of motorised vehicles is often the explicit aim of city planners who envisage new environments for inhabitants, it can still be difficult to picture the familiar streets and boulevards of Brussels without a constant flow of traffic. But there was once was a time when they didn’t occupy quite so much space.

Belgium in the 1900s was a markedly different place from the one we see today. A hub of almost 200 car manufacturers, by the early 1900s the country was exporting cars across the world. But back at home, the car remained a luxury.

According to data from the Statistical Yearbook for Belgium (1922-1951), there were 33,641 automated vehicles on the roads of the country in 1921. By 1925 there were 115,770 and Antwerp CKD-Chevrolet assembly line was turning out 25 cars a day; Ford’s Antwerp factory was so successful that it moved to Genk to get more space.

Quite simply, Belgium was a big name in cars in a growing industry, and it just kept going.

Numbers fell between 1938 (304,731) and 1943 (42,927) due to the war, but rose again from 1944 (53,823) onwards. By 1950, there were 558,097 automobiles on the road.

“During the second half of the 20th century, car ownership increased enormously,” Pascal Smet, State Secretary for European and International Relations of the Brussels-Capital Region, told The Brussels Times. “The pedestrian avenues in the city centre became highways that divided the city. Pollution and car and bike accidents increased and so political vision started to change in the first decade of this century.”

By 2021 Belgium is a very different place from the one that first started trying to work out how to best handle cars on the road: Statista estimates that some 5.88 million passenger cars were on Belgium’s roads in Belgium in 2019.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s take a step back in time to a time when the car was gaining ground in a Brussels we don’t recognise.

The truck of the moving company J.B. Loossens in Jette (1900-1910)

Credit: Erfgoedbank Jette, Collection André Electeur

Cars being repaired in the Ateliers Thirionet in Jette (1900-1920)

Credit: Erfgoedbank Jette, Collection André De Gand (15)

A photo of a car technician in the Ateliers Thirionet repair garage, which still exists to this day under the name Power Belgium.

Wemmelse steenweg with a car in the front in Jette (1900-1960)

Credit: Erfgoedbank Jette, Collection Jan Vanden Bossche

The first taxi in Jette that received a fixed place on the crossroad of the Chaussée de Jette

Credit: Erfgoedbank Jette, Collection André De Gand (11)

People posing in front of the company Van Malder in Jette (1918-1925)

Credit: Erfgoedbank Jette, Collection André De Gand

Employees and clients pose in the garage Van Malder in Jette (1918-1925)

Credit: Erfgoedbank Jette, Collection André De Gand (16)

The car of the company N Bert, selling yeast in Jette (1923)

Credit: Erfgoedbank Jette, Collection André De Gand

A place where cars were assembled in Jette (1918-1930)

Credit: Erfgoedbank Jette, Collection André De Gand

The car of the shop Epicerie Centrale in Jette (1932)

Credit: Erfgoedbank Jette, Collection Jean Verelst

Kids entering a schoolbus in Jette (1958)

Credit: Erfgoedbank Jette, Collection André De Gand

An ambulance parked at the café Au Sénat in Jette (1940-1960) 

Credit: Erfgoedbank Jette, Collection André De Gand

The trucks of the moving company Vandergoten in Laken (1950-1960)

Credit: Erfgoedbank Laken, Laca – Collection P. Schacht.

A family posing in front of their car in Sint-Pieters-Woluwe (1954-1955)

Credit: Erfgoedbank Sint-Pieters-Woluwe, Collection Andrea De Keuster

Cars parked at the Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-van-Lourdeskerk in Jette (1955-1970)

Credit: Erfgoedbank Jette, Collection Gemeenschapscentrum Essegem

Old cars in front of the municipality building in Jette (1960-1970)

Credit: Erfgoedbank Jette, Collection André De Gand

A group of young people pushing a car in the snow in Jette (1961-1962)

Credit: Erfgoedbank Jette, Collection Lut Bruyninckx

These photos were provided from the Erfgoedbank Brussel digital database which preserves the heritage of citizens, families and associations in Brussels. It concerns heritage that you usually cannot find in professional institutions such as museums or archives. The Erfgoedbank Brussel presents old photos, postcards, films, audio and stories about daily life older than 20 years.

More information on the heritage database – and the collected 7000 items and web exhibitions – can be found here.

This photo collection is part of an ongoing series looking at the history of Brussels in Photos.  Do you have any photos of Belgium through the ages that you would like to share with The Brussels Times? Let us know.


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