An automobile was generally ranked higher than ownership of one's home

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.

Some seven hundred manufacturers had rushed into the field. Small machine-shops, bicycle manufacturers, out-of-work carpenters, hoped they had discovered the bootstrap to pull them out of the depression. But the boom faded away as annual production sought levels corresponding to the real demand. For, apart from the expense, new obstacles to further expansion sprang up in strict traffic regulations and bans on trailer parking. Municipalities did not take kindly to the home-on-wheels which could escape taxes and defy housing rules. Nevertheless in a more limited field the trailer provided a new means of touring which had wide appeal, becoming throughout the country a familiar symbol of the life of the highway. Trailer camps were established at the grounds of New York's World Fair, at Florida winter resorts, in the national parks of the Far West.

An important consequence of touring was the growth of a travel industry of immense proportions. In 1935 the American people were reported to have spent almost five per cent of their total income on vacation expenses. More than half this money, or about $1,330,000,000, represented automobile operating expenses that could be fairly allocated to the pleasure use of cars. Here was a sum greater than all moving-picture admissions, greater than the cost of any other form of recreation whatsoever. Add to it all the other expenses of motoring -- hotels, tourist camps, restaurants -- and some idea may be gained of the importance of the industry that catered to the motorists' needs. Half a century earlier there had been nothing comparable to automobile touring; it had now become an economic as well as social phenomenon of the utmost significance.

Just what a car meant in the lives of countless working-class families, entirely apart from the vogue for touring among those more likely to have summer vacations, was graphically revealed in the comments made by women interviewed in the course of the Middletown survey. "The car is the only pleasure we have," one of them stated; another declared, "I'll go without food before I'll see us give up the car"; and a mother of nine children said she would "rather do without clothes than give up the car." An automobile was generally ranked higher than ownership of one's home, before a telephone, electric lighting, or a bathtub. The experience of the depression widely confirmed the general willingness to sacrifice almost everything else in order to keep a car. Generally paid for on the instalment plan, it was the last thing to go. One of the steadiest products on the market was gasoline, bought by countless working-class families heroically economizing on food and clothes to be able to pay for their Sunday spin into the country.

In no other country in the world had motoring for pleasure developed on any such grandiose scale. Everywhere else the use of the automobile for recreation was largely limited, as it had been in the early days in this country, to the more wealthy classes. Only in the United States had a higher standard of living and mass production made possible such general ownership. A car for his family, to be used primarily for pleasure, was accepted as a valid ambition for every member of the American democracy.

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