Tenting on the New Camp Ground

As more cars entered consumers’ hands, by summer 1922, Americans were driving across the country for vacations and trips at at unprecedented level.

This New York Times Magazine article described the phenomenon, as seen on highways and roads:

Turns into any trans-continental highway, the Lincoln or the Dixie, the old trails of New York and New England, the National Pikes of the Middle West [Midwest], the boulevards of the Pacific Coast, the passes that corkscrew over the Rockies or the Alleghanies, turn into a through road anywhere and you will become part of the longest, the fastest, and the most extraordinary procession that ever raised the August dust on the wrinkled face of the earth. The townsman does not realize it, the steel-rail traveler hardly glimpses it, but the fact is that the whole country is in motion this summer as it has never been before.

Sure, Henry Ford’s Model T — considered the first affordable car for the average American consumer — had been around since 1908. Yet there was something unique about 1922, something of a tipping point at which there were a large enough number of vehicles for scenes like this to occur:

For years the motor tourist has been abroad in the land. For more than a decade he has been crossing the continent from New York to Los Angeles, from Palm Beach to St. Paul.

He traveled, perhaps travels still, in his hundreds or his thousands, but he is negligible in this year’s rush, swallowed up and swamped in the crowd. What is happening this summer is something newer, bigger, and more significant. The real America is in transit, with father or mother at the wheel and the rest of the family in the back seat… We are in the midst of a whirling experiment in what might be called inter-urbanity.

Perhaps this was the first summer that some annoying kid called out to their parents from the back seat: “Are we there yet?”

The article also says there were about 10.5 automobiles in the U.S. in 1922. Since the country’s population in the 1920 Census was around 106 million, that meant about one car for every 10 people.

Today, there are about 290.8 million registered vehicles in the U.S. With the population at 333 million, that’s about 1 car for every 1.14 people — almost an equal ratio.

Tenting on the New Camp Ground

Published: Sunday, August 13, 1922

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