A Quick Note On Cars and Autocamping

The advent of Ford’s Model T in 1908 began to transform society’s notions of motor accessibility and leisure time.  This change occurred across socioeconomic and gender lines.  Cindy Aron, discussing the transformation of those who could go on vacations between 1900 and 1930, writes,

The increasing ease of travel, especially the creation of the automobile culture, made vacationing more accessible to both the middle and working class, rendering vacations cheaper, easier, and more enjoyable.[1]

She continues, writing that “three quarters of vacationers drove,” and it, along with the rising number of female drivers, aided in enabling middle class families to escape the expense of rail travel and hotels.[2]  Kathleen Franz writes, “many middle-class motorists believed they could measure the value of motor camping in dollars and cents;” the automobile was viewed as the cheapest way to travel.[3]  Magazine articles written for a range of audiences strengthen this claim, as they often included budgets, and some stated that belief in their titles, which included “From coast to coast—cheaper than staying home” and “An Automobile Camping Trip: Is fun for everybody—and inexpensive.”[4]

“Motoring” on the weekends began to replace the time families spent together at home.  Soon, autocamping, camping in one’s automobile or using the automobile to reach campgrounds across the country, rose in popularity.  By 1925, there were over 4,000 autocamps in the United States.[5]  In addition, literature on these activities sprang up in magazines and newspapers.  Over the course of a decade, millions of individuals and groups went on autocamping adventures, turning the activity into a $3,300,000,000 industry by 1927.[6]

[1] Cindy Aron, Working at Play: A History of Vacations in the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 207.

[2] Aron, Working at Play, 244; Flink, The Automobile Age, 183.

[3] Kathleen Franz, Tinkering: Consumers Reinvent the Early Automobile (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005), 24.

[4] Myron M. Stearns, “From coast to coast—cheaper than staying home,” Collier’s, October 17, 1925, 8-9; Zoe A. Tilghman, “An Automobile Camping Trip,” Woman’s Home Companion, June 1917, 31.

[5] Frank Everett Brimmer, “Following the Open Road in Your Car,” Woman’s Home Companion, June 1925, 42.

[6] Frank Everett Brimmer, “Nomadic America’s $3,300,000,000 Market,” The Magazine of Business, July 1927, 18.

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2 Responses to A Quick Note On Cars and Autocamping

  1. DennyG says:

    I mentioned in an earlier comment that I’d attempted to retrace my g-g-parents’ 1920 trip with no hint as to where you might see some evidence. Since it involved a Model T and lots of camping (and even some roadside hunting) I’m going to slip something in on this post. My 2001 journal is here:
    If nothing else, I’ve a hunch you’ll enjoy reading Granny’s letters.

    • Denny, those letters are awesome. Immediately I noticed just the amount of car trouble they had at times compared with the few issues my travelers faced with their car. It would seem that 9 years made quite the difference with car technologies. Then again, it could be just luck either way. As I continue my research I hope to read many more collections of letters detailing longer travels. Thanks for sharing them with me!

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