General Motors design chief Harley Earl was an inspired man after gazing upon a twin-tailed P-38 Lightning fighter plane of WWII. By borrowing elements of the plane’s design he ushered in the tail fin era of the automobile, starting with the 1948 Cadillac, the first of which left the factory on this day in 1948.
The style proved popular and spread through American automotive design centers, and then around the world. By the end of the 1950s, fins had grown from small projections to massive wings with sharp edges. Following an apex in 1959, in which Cadillac again stole the show with its enormous fins, the design disappeared almost entirely by the early 1960s.