Thursday, March 27, 2008

RV and Camping History

Contributed by Evanne Schmarder, Roadabode Productions

Today the modern camper has a plethora of options. For instance, should they camp in a tent or a Prevost bus? Head to the mountains or the shore? Cook a fabulous meal at “home” or venture out? It was not always this way, though. The idea of touring the country came about from bicyclists in the late 1800’s. They loved the idea of being able to stop at their leisure - not tethered to the train schedules - and explore local areas. With the advent of the new fangled automobile adventurers had options. It’s even noted that Henry Ford and his buddies Harvey Firestone and Thomas Edison went on camping trips together, with Model Ts equipped for camping.

Back then campgrounds were free in hope that wealthy tourists would stop for a night or two and contribute to the economy – purchasing fuel, groceries – maybe even a souvenir. It’s reported that by the mid-20s over 5,000 “municipal camps” had been established, offering campers fireplaces, picnic tables, coin-operated gas stoves, clean, safe drinking water and eventually showers and restrooms.

Good, paved roads on the other hand were sparse, rough and often dangerous. State and federal governments brought increased popularity to auto camping in the 1920s as several improvements in highway quality such as alignment, grading, surfacing, bridges, and signage came about.

After World War II, the RV industry flourished as Americans answered the call of the open road. “Camping” has evolved throughout the years but one thing has not changed - that age old question - “what’s on the other side of the hill?”.

Check out these interesting and little known facts:
  • in 1900 the US had approximately 144 miles of paved roads
  • in 2000 the US had approximately 2,425,000 miles of paved roads
  • the 1920s vehicle department at Anheuser-Busch built a “wonder house on wheels” designed by Samuel B. Lambert of Listerine fame - it sold well at $535
  • the 20’s saw the era of the “Tin Can Tourist” club (circa 1919) where members were recognized by the tin can they’d soldered to the radiator cap
  • the term 5th wheel was derived around 1927 from a gooseneck hitch system designed by Glenn Curtiss, an aircraft designer, whereas an automobile’s spare tire (located in the trunk or under the rumble seat) was deflated, the hitch placed through the axle hole, and the spare re-inflated
  • the 30’s and 40’s camping enthusiasts enjoyed getting out in their “house trailers”
  • travel trailer popularity emerged in the late 1940s with the advent of the tight handling and responsive new cars
  • Good Sam first welcomed members in 1966 with a few good Samaritans wanting to help fellow RVers

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