Thoughts On the Rise of Camping

Camping was not a new (organized) activity; the first camp in the United States opened in Connecticut in 1861.  The Camp Directors Association of America, now known as the American Camping Association, was founded in 1910 (KOA would not come into existence for another 52 years).

Automobiles ushered in camping’s rise in popularity, as so many more people found themselves able to get to a campground.  In the 1920s, millions of people went camping.  By 1925, there were over 4,000 autocamps in the United States.[1]  Just two years later, in 1927, camping had become a $3,300,000,000 industry.[2]  Yes, that is over 3 billion dollars.

The western United States seemed to capitalize on the autocamping trend better than its eastern counterparts, providing nicer accommodations for campers.  In a Quick Note on Camps and Cabins I shared Dotty’s description of a cabin they stayed in at a camp near Tacoma, Washington.  A hot shower and the ability to do laundry was among the highlights of this and other camps she mentioned staying at.  By 1929, camps had come a long way from their origins as clearings in the woods where people could park their cars and set up camp in a defined space likely within view of other groups of campers.  Dotty described almost all of the camps the three stayed at as “fine”, but I wonder if she would have used that term about the eastern camps had she known what she’d stay in as the trip progressed.  She doesn’t mention much about campground amenities the first two times she talks about their camping, but it becomes a regular occurrence starting with a stay at a camp in Iowa.  In Hawley, Pennsylvania, in mentioning the “fine” camp, she writes, “lots + lots of cars here, but we are secluded”.  Cody, Wyoming’s “fine” camp “included hot and cold shower, laundry, stoves, etc.”, which allowed the three to do their laundry.[3]

It’s something I still need to research further, but I’m thinking that overall the camps in the east were older than those in the west, so they lacked some of the amenities that the western ones were built with.  Upgrades to existing camps likely took time, and as long as they didn’t see a drop in attendance, the lack of certain features wasn’t a hindrance to their operation.  In the west I wouldn’t be surprised if the abundance of National Parks made operating a camp a worthwhile endeavor, and thus competition among nearby area camps necessitated having the latest camp features.

Stay tuned for Monday’s post which will feature a camping-related “In the Box” post.


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

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

[3] Dorothy Guyott, Postcard from Hawley, PA, September 1, 1929; Dorothy Guyott, Poscard from Cody, WY, September 15, 1929.

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One Response to Thoughts On the Rise of Camping

  1. Jim Grey says:

    Of course, when the first motels started to open, auto tourists turned to them and didn’t look back.

    As I drive the old roads I always research them first, and sometimes I find information about former campsites. I like to try to find where they are today. Of course, the site itself seldom exists. I have found a couple of old primitive cabin sites still standing, either abandoned or repurposed.

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