The Pleasures of Vacation Touring

The Pleasures of Vacation Touring

The pleasures of vacation touring were depicted with even more fulsome praise of the joys of the open road. Every section of the country invited the growing army of motorists to visit it. Chambers of commerce, resort proprietors, and oil companies united in publicizing the attractions of seashore and mountain. New England was a summer vacation land, and Florida a popular winter resort.

The national parks and forests, especially those of the West, drew hordes of visitors. In 1910 they had a few hundred thousand; the total in 1935 was thirty-four million. Almost all of them came by automobile. There was an overwhelming response to the slogan See America First as the new generation took to the road.

Accommodations to meet the needs of these motorists along the way sprang up quickly. The tourist camp became an institution. Some of them provided comfortable overnight cabins with all modern conveniences; others simply provided facilities for automobile campers. Florida probably had more of them than any other state. In 1925 it reported 178 with accommodations for six hundred thousand people. For the more fashionable there were hotels and inns — there was a rapid growth of them in these years — but the majority of tourists had little money to spend. An overnight cabin or a place where they could stretch a tarpaulin from the side of the car, cooking their own supper at a communal fireplace, was all that most of them demanded.

In the late 1930’s the trailer made its appearance as still another boon for those with migratory instincts. The westerner whose forebears had crossed the prairies in a journey of several months trekked back over the old route, in a fraction of the time, with this twentieth-century equivalent of the covered wagon coupled to his car. The number of these vehicles increased rapidly; enthusiasts saw for them a future comparable to that of the automobile itself. In the bright dawn of trailer camping, about 1936, it was wildly stated that there would be a million of them on the road within a year and that a decade would see half the population on wheels. Such fantasies proved illusory; perhaps one hundred thousand passenger trailers, rather than a million, was the total later estimated by Trailer Travel.

Together with such pastimes as lawn tennis, archery, and trapshooting, some of these clubs began also to provide facilities for a game new to America. It was far more important than yachting, coaching, or polo. It was not for very long to remain, as Harper’s Weekly termed it in 1895, “pre-eminently a game of good society.” It was soon to give rise to a tremendous growth in country clubs which were to become the special prerogative of the great middle class in cities and towns throughout the country. This sport, of course, was golf.

It did not really take hold in this country, despite its hoary antiquity in Scotland and occasional attempts to introduce it on this side of the Atlantic ever since colonial days, until after 1888. The organization in that year of the St. Andrews Club, near New York, may well be taken as the first important date in golfs history in the United States. Other courses were built — whatever number of holes was most convenient — after St. Andrews had showed the way. Soon a great number of the country clubs about Boston, New York, and Philadelphia had their links. By 1892 golf was spreading westward. It took Chicago by storm and moved on to St. Louis, Milwaukee, Denver, and the Pacific Coast. In 1894 the United States Golf Association was formed.

Mass advertising developed out of a need to persuade people to buy. Manufacturers merely made products, but advertisers “manufactured consumers”. Advertising involved a shift in cultural value s away from a Victorian Protestant ethic which demanded that production, property, and personal behavior be controlled. it encouraged an ethic which permitted pleasure and even sensuality.

Advertising came to concentrate not on deseribing the product it was selling, but on the emotional satisfactions that its consumption would afford its purchaser. I preached the new, “therapeutic” doctrine of 20th century capitalism, that its citizens should seek self-realization through the intense experiences brought about through buying products for their leisure time.

In 1899 the American economist Thorstein Veblen argued that “the conspicuous consumption of valuable goods” became the principal means by which members of the Leisure Class demonstrated their social standing to each other and to the rest of society. As he was deseribing the nature and implications of a consumer culture, American capitalism was spreading that culture, and the idea of leisure, to far larger sectors of the population.

Several years later, a writer on fashion noted that as wealth or social status were the basic selling points of most elothes, “the styles should go as far as possible in proving that the owner does not have to work for aliving”. From the 1920s onward, the idea of stylistic obsolescence in which annual models introduce new season’s fashions spread out from automobiles to other types of consumer goods as the way to maintam a constant demand, through what Charles Kettering of General Motors called “the organized creation of dissatisfaction”.

In 1929 Christine Frederick wrote, “Consumptionism is the name given to the new doctrine; and it is adrnitted today to be the greatest idea that America has to give to the world; the idea that workmen and masses be looked upon not simply as workers and producers, but as consumers…. Pay them more, sell them more, prosper more is the equation.” This was the American Dream: an economic perpetualmotion machine which made everyone appear equally prosperous.

It drew immigrants with the fantastic visions seen, as novelist Michael Gold deseribed in 1930, “In the window of a store that sold Singer Sewing Machines in our (Romanian) village. One picture had in it the tallest building I had ever seen. It was called a skyscraper. At the bottom of it walked the proud Americans. The men wore derby hats and had fine mustaches and gold watch chains. The women wore silks and satins, and had proud faces like queens. Not a single poor man or woman was there; everyone was rich.”

Next Page: Popular Culture and Leisure