A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Why do they call it a "station wagon"?

December 22, 1989

Dear Cecil:

Hey, you great festering gob of knowledge, why are those bastions of suburban tankdom known as station wagons? Is it because they're so huge and clumsy they might as well be stationary?

Dear Julie:

"Great festering gob of knowledge"? Lord, protect me from my admirers. Automakers borrowed the term "station wagon" from the carriage-making biz, as in horse and carriage. Station wagons, known before 1890 as depot wagons, were four-wheeled covered vehicles that you might take down to the railroad station to pick up passengers and their baggage — a service not unlike that performed by station wagons today. Some had a removable backseat and a tailgate that could be lowered to facilitate loading. Other familiar features include: (1) wood sides (and for that matter, wood everything else) and (2) ungainly designs — the originals looked like orange crates on wheels. Today's boats, therefore, are the product of nigh on a century of tradition. Show some respect.

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