The History of the Glove Compartment

The story of the glove compartment begins more than a century ago and takes many twist and turns to arrive at the car feature we know today.
glove compartment

The humble glove compartment is so often a forgotten-about vehicle feature. After all, it’s where we store so many forgotten-about things. Be honest, can you name every item that’s currently in your glove compartment? But while we may take this unassuming storage bin for granted, it deserves to be acknowledged. Like so many other automobile features, the history of the glove box provides insight into the evolution of society at large.

Glove compartment history begins

Driving an automobile in the early 20th century may have been an exciting experience, but it certainly wasn’t the most comfortable one. Known as “horseless carriages,” early cars didn’t have roofs so drivers were open to the elements. Even when vehicles became enclosed, they still didn’t have heaters. Furthermore, roads weren’t paved well – if at all – so drivers had to hold on to a shaking steering wheel. And let’s not forget that power steering had yet to be invented, so turning the steering wheel could be a struggle. This is all to say that early motorists needed a good pair of driving gloves.

Early automobile manufacturers tried to rid their products of the “horseless carriage” moniker and Packard Motor Company did so with the addition of a new storage compartment. Sales material for Packard’s earliest cars stated that, “Instead of a leather dash, there is a boot or box forming part of the body. In this is ample space for parcels, waterproofs, etc.”

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Where did the term “glove compartment” come from?

What we have come to know as the glove box or glove compartment had come into existence. Yet the idea of storing one’s driving gloves in this space was not a given. That idea can be traced back to a woman named Dorothy Levitt. One of Britain’s first female race drivers, Levitt was an automotive pioneer. Among her many accomplishments in the field was publishing “The Woman and the Car,” a book filled advice for owning and driving an automobile. One such tip informed readers, “You will find room for these gloves in the little drawer under the seat of the car. This little drawer is the secret of the dainty motorist.”

The growth of the glove box

It didn’t take long for other manufacturers to adopt this new feature. Some used baskets, satchels or hampers, while others built boxes into the dashboard. By the 1930s, the glove box became standard.

As time went on – and vehicles evolved – the need for driving gloves dissipated. This allowed glove compartment, and their uses, to change and by the mid-century, manufacturers began introducing all sorts of iterations. These included a glove drawer that rolled out of the instrument panel, a glove box containing a pop-up makeup compact and lighted makeup mirror overhead, and another that featured a mounted voice recorder.

But the cream of the glove box crop was the one found in the 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham. Stored inside was a makeup case, a notebook, a cigarette case, an atomizer for perfume and six stainless-steel shot glasses that could be held down by a magnetic strip.

Modern glove boxes

As decades rolled on, glove compartments became less flashy and more utilitarian. Some became lockable compartments, others came equipped with indentations on the door to hold beverages. Not surprisingly, this was also the time period when glove boxes became catchall storage spots in vehicles, holding everything from insurance and registration papers to tissues and snacks.

Only recently have glove boxes taken on some new features, although there’s room for debate as to how successful they were or will be. In the aughts, Dodge unveiled the “Chill Zone,” a refrigerated beverage storage bin capable of holding up to four 12-ounce cans. More recently, some manufacturers have developed deeper glove boxes where drivers can store a laptop.

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What do you keep in your glove box? Let us know in the comments below!


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54 Thoughts on “The History of the Glove Compartment

  1. I have my registration and insurance information in my glove compartment. I also have a small memo pad and pencil in case I have to take down information if God forbid, I have an accident.

  2. Using the mounting holes from the cardboard glove box that my 1964 Ford Galaxie had, I mounted a 1990’s Nakamichi cassette tape deck in my glove box.

  3. I keep car manuel/insurance info/registration plastic ware, straw, pen.pencils, tiny note pad, night time anti-glare night driving glasses, compact NYC map, maps, energy bar, cough drops, extra masks, extra mailbox key

  4. I leave a spare set of flats ( shoes) and a hair straightener iron that plugs into the lighter. And the car instruction book

  5. Before the internet and GPS, I used the glove compartment to store road maps. Now it just holds the car manual, registration, etc. plus pens or pencils and not much else! The compartment seems to have gotten smaller anyhow.

  6. So enjoy these historic articles. Have been driving since I was 14 and it is always fun to know who invented these items and how they morph into today’s components.
    Thank you~

  7. I have a boring and practical glove compartment. In it I store: a little folder with registration and insurance cards, my car’s information book, pens and pencils, extra masks (ugh!), plastic utensils for take-out, antiseptic wipes, napkins, and a stethoscope! (retired nurse), sometimes loose change. And a pair of gloves!

  8. I continue to store the required registration and insurance info. in the glove box. In addition, the car manual and parking placards and keys. I have a deeper storage box between the Honda seats for snacks, first-aid, flash light, pencils and paper, etc.

  9. In addition to registration, auto manual, and insurance info, a tire gauge, and several napkins, I keep several crossword puzzles, pens, and reading glasses. If I arrive somewhere early or am picking my sister up at work, I grab a puzzle to pass the time.

  10. I keep the car registration and the latest inspection sheet in the glove box. I might also keep a few clean napkins and maybe a plastic spoon or two.

  11. I have a Chevy Tahoe that has a big bulky “console” between the two front seats, inside of which is a small shoebox-size container for far fewer items than you would think this space would hold from the looks of its size outside. So I removed the little box inside, then in the now long, wide, and deep space inside I stored among other things a snow scraper, toiletries, hand towel, bottled water, roll of paper towels, maps, hatchet, hunting knife, disaster prep equipment —and, would you believe it, a pair of work gloves.

  12. Very interesting and informational article, well done please continue writing them it certainly makes for good reading.

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