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

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car glove compartment box storage contents origin history
Photo: The News Wheel

There are many features in cars that we take for granted without knowing where they came from. Consider the glove box. Also called the glove compartment or glovie, this small storage nook is tucked under the dashboard by the front passenger seat. These days, it’s simply used for stowing the owner’s manual, tissues, pens, electronic cables, and sunglasses. So why is it called a glove box, and what was its original purpose?

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Reaching into the history of the glove compartment

Not to be confused with the airtight environment used in scientific work, a car glove box is embedded above the front passenger’s footwell. As the name suggests, this lockable compartment was used by drivers and passengers to store their gloves in the early twentieth century, back when automobile cabins had poor (or no) temperature control, according to research shared by Thrillist.

Gloves are not essential these days for operating a vehicle, but they used to be — 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 the olden days, gloves were part of popular fashion, especially when operating a vehicle (some drivers still use them in luxury performance cars).
  • Gloves needed to be worn at certain social 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 only intended for gloves; it was a storage recess within the dashboard of horseless carriages. Although it eventually 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 feature locks, keeping valuables away from thieves and valets with sticky fingers.

So, even though you don’t store your puffy winter gloves in your car’s glove box anymore, you’ll certainly find that the convenient storage nook is quite welcome.

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