Accepted Paper:

Of Baboons, Cadavers, and Dummies: Car Crash Testing in the 1970s  


Renee Blackburn (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

Paper short abstract:

In this paper, I examine animals, human cadavers, and anthropomorphic dummies as non-standard representations of human body types that shifted the interior of the automobile from a safe space for adult male occupants to a safe space for occupants of various genders, ages, and body types.

Paper long abstract:

In in the mid-twentieth century, standardization of crash test devices began with dummies originally created for U.S. Air Force pilots. Auto companies and research labs tested cars for crashworthiness and safety using these male test dummies, which represented a larger, heavier body type. In turn, safety devices and auto interiors often injured this non-standardized body in the automobile at a more frequent rate during a crash.

In this paper, I examine the use of animals, human cadavers, and anthropomorphic dummies as crash test devices and their use as representatives of various ages and genders in order to test new safety technologies in the 1970s. Anthropomorphic dummies were standardized to generic body types, but cadaver and animal test subjects created larger testing variety. By varying types of test devices, researchers and engineers were able to create safety devices that protected more vehicle occupants, but at cost to comfort and freedom of movement. In turn, I also ask, were engineers designing cars for safety based on assumptions about interior space use by gender? And finally, how can we analyze the interior of the car as a standardized space for the non-standard body?

Through analysis of these questions and other questions, I will show how the use of animal, cadaver, and anthropomorphic dummy test devices as representations of non-standard human bodies in crash tests helped create new safety technologies that moved the interior of the car from a safe space for males to a safe space for all occupants.

Panel T059
Making Worlds: Feminist STS and everyday technoscience