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Car History Lesson: What’s the Purpose of the Glove Box?

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car glove compartment box storage contents origin history

There are many aspects and features of cars that we take for granted, but if you think about them, we don’t always know where they came from.

Consider the glove box. Also called the glove compartment or glovie, this small storage nook is located under the dashboard by the front passenger. These days, it’s simply used for stowing the owner’s manual, tissues, pens, electronic cables, and sunglasses. No one stuffs their puffy winter gloves in that narrow cubbyhole.

So why is it called a glove box and what was its original purpose?


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Digging into the History of the Glove Compartment

Not to be confused with the airtight container used for handling items in a controlled environment, a glove box is embedded over the front passenger’s footwell. As the name suggests, these lockable compartments were often used for drivers and passengers to store their gloves decades ago.

While gloves are not essential these days when operating a vehicle, they used to be far more so–both for functional and fashionable purposes.

  • In vehicles with open cabins, fast-moving air could numb or chafe a driver’s hands.
  • For many years, vehicles did not have heating systems to keep drivers’ hands warm.
  • Many early steering wheels/clutches/cranks were not comfortable or easy to grip and thus required gloves to operate.
  • In olden days, gloves were part of popular fashion, especially when operating a vehicle (some drivers still use them in luxury performance vehicles).
  • Gloves needed to be worn at certain venues, so it was helpful to have them stored within the car for availability.

So, if gloves are no longer necessary, why do vehicles still feature glove compartments?

Originally, when the compartment was invented, it wasn’t intended just for gloves; it was a storage recess within the dashboard of horseless carriages. While it became synonymous with stashing gloves, it was always–and continues to be–broadly used for item storage. That’s why many glove compartments over the years have featured locks, keeping valuables away from valets and passersby.

The glove box (sometimes all one word) also goes by the terms cubby-hole, glove-tail, and jockey box in different areas of the world.


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Sources: Thrillist, Wikipedia