• The Early Days of Outdoor Camping

      Well, it’s that time of year again when families are beginning to look at their vacation schedule and perhaps plan their fun places to take the family camping. The MotorCities National Heritage Area is an affiliate of the National Park Service and its members enjoy the great outdoors as they travel to parks across the nation.

      This story is about the early days of camping and the millions of people who have used early recreational vehicles such as travel trailers, truck campers, camping trailers and motor homes to enjoy a fun vacation. Outdoor camping as a recreational activity started in the early 20th century when people began to visit the national or state parks. Camping was also used for boy and girl scout clubs which proved to be not only a good way to learn about nature but also a great tool for building and creating great teamwork activities.


      One of the first camping grounds in the world was Cunningham's Camp near Douglas, Isle of Man which opened in 1894. In 1906, the Association of Cycle Campers opened its own camping site in Weybridge which many people thoroughly enjoyed. Camping can take you to many breathtaking places in the country. Travelers could enjoy the mountains, beaches, camp beside a quiet lake, or even hike along a wooded trail.


      There are several basic types of RVs that people used during the early days. This included motor-homes, travel trailers, folding camping trailers truck campers and van conversions. During the early days, camping travel trailers on wheels were the most popular form of vehicles that families used during their vacations. Travel trailers offered families facilities such as cooking ranges, sinks, and refrigerators. They were often towed by an intermediate-sized automobile. The luxury travel trailers such as the “Ritz Craft “provided families with an all new Ritz Craft interior which was decorated to create a lively and comfortable spacious area for family members.


      During the early 1930's-1960's, there were many manufacturers producing camping trailers that become very popular. An example of this is the Hobo Camper manufacturing company and the Airstream Corporation from Jackson Center, Ohio. The famous lightweight construction and streamlined Airstream Travel Trailers design started its production in 1932. Mr. Wally Byam, was the founder of Airstream Inc. In 1934, he conceived the name “Airstream” because his contoured trailers traveled down the road like a stream of air. “It was the spirited style of living”. The Airstream models included an airplane-type construction and design for maximum travel-ability. It was exceptionally light and easy to tow. The Airstream models were very versatile in all types of weather. The models were manufactured with an all new aluminum construction. The Airstream manufacturing company produced four great Airstream models that were designed to go places in comfort. Average prices started at $415.00.


      One of the greatest advertising camping campaigns in 1969, was when the Chrysler Corporation introduced “ World Series” baseball star Mickey Lolich and his family on a 10- day camping tour of America. This popular advertising campaign was centered around the Lolich family dream vacation trip. This also introduced the new 1969 Dodge model along with the new more innovative camping equipment. After winning the “World Series”, Lolich and his family started a trip across America with his wife Joyce and at the time his three year old daughter Kim. During the tour, the Lolich family used several new camping vehicles such as a Dodge motor home, the Airstream 25-foot trade-wind travel trailer, and many other camping vehicles. In 1969, this was a stand-out marketing strategy that attracted many baseball fans .


      In conclusion, the history of camping was a way to enjoy yourself and to regroup your thoughts or to spend those special moments alone with your family members. MotorCities National Heritage Area, will always be a part of those great outdoor activities because the camping experience has no boundaries. If you are looking to camp in the state of Michigan, consider taking a trip to some of our own National Parks.

      A special thanks to Robert Tate, Automotive Historian and Researcher, for donating the story to the MotorCities Story of the Week program. Photographs are courtesy of the National Automotive History Collection. (Bibliography: Landau Robert / Phillippi. “Airstream” Peregrne Smith Books Salt Lake City 1984. The ABC of Motor Camping-1928 . James & Van Doran Company. Airstream- “The worlds finest Travel Trailers 1953. The Hobo manufacturing Company. George F. Reed. “Camping on wheels. May-June 1970. Dodge Trailblazer/Chrysler Corporation 1969.)


      For further information on photos please visit http://www.detroitpubliclibrary.org/ or email nahc@detroitpubliclibrary.org. Please do not republish the story and/or photographs without permission of MotorCities National Heritage Area. For further information contact Robert Tate at btate@motorcities.org


      If you have a story that you would like to donate to be featured as a MotorCities Story of the Week, email Desirae Tolbert at dtolbert@motorcities.org