This semester I am doing an independent study in history called “Tourism in Modern America.” I’m studying trends in tourism over the past century in America regionally and just finished my first book for the class. I got to pick the books we would read and I’ll be starting out with two more general ones and then making my way across the country from South to Southwest, up to New England and over to Hawaii.
The book I just finished was called “Are we there yet?: The Golden Age of American Family Vacations” by Susan Sessions Rugh. It covers the history of American tourism from WWII to the 1970s and 80s.
I really enjoyed the read and Rugh has filled her book with wonderful archival photographs from Wild West Amusement Parks and Gas Stations that families stopped at along the road. Here are a few things I learned that you might find interesting…
1. After WWII vacationing really opened up for the middle class. Because of an increase in jobs that offered longer paid vacations more middle class families could afford to spend a week or two traveling.
2. During the 1940s and 50s a dual economy developed because of the racism that African Americans found on the road. A whole seperate system of hotels and travel guides were created to let African American tourists know where they would be welcome. (The dual economy ended in the 60s when African American veterans took a stand against the injustice and with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964).
3. The National Parks had a hard time deciding whether or not to install certain safety-related things at their parks because they wanted to experience of being in nature to be authentic. After many children died in the geisers and hot springs, however, they had to rethink their policy.
4. Even though it was during the Cold War many Americans traveled for the sake of patriotism and education and looked at their car as an extension of their home.
There are many more interesting stories in this book, but those were a few of my favorite facts I picked up along the way.