| This article and pictures taken from the December 2001 issue of
"Family Motor Coaching"
by H. John Johnsen
All Camping Roads Led To Florida
They arrived in Florida from everywhere. .
. in cars, trucks, and trailers. People of all types trying to
escape to a better place -- or at least what they hoped would be a better
place. It was in the 1920's, and Americans were on the move like
never before. They had money to travel, received paid vacations from
work, and had discovered a new way to reach their destination: the
automobile. Many of these travelers also found that, with a little
ingenuity, their vehicles could be converted to rolling homes.
pioneers lived simply, avoiding the expense of hotels and
restaurants by spending their nights in tents or inside homemade
house cars and dinning on rations carried in the car that could be
cooked over portable gas stoves. They were adventurers,
willing to accept the risks of automotive travel to experience
America up close
Photo courtesy of the RV/MH Heritage Foundation, Elkhart, IN
their own pace. All that was necessary for the trip was a vehicle,
family, food, and a destination. For many people, that
destination was Florida.
Sold on the Sunshine State.
Travelers were particularly attracted to Florida for a variety of
reasons. Some claimed it was because the state was a
strange, wild, and mysterious land. Emigrants from Georgia
headed south in caravans with other bold adventurers to seek out
Storage space in the earliest RVs was limited, but
resourceful travelers found places to strap or tie all of the
camping necessities they would need. Traveling wasn't nearly
as adventurous for wealthy campers. The 1920s land yacht
(above) featured a large back porch and a generator (shown in the
climate drew voyagers from the North and Midwest who were eager to spend
winters away from frigid temperatures and snowy weather. Others were
lured to the Sunshine State because it imposed mo state income taxes or
inheritance taxes and would not do so before 1944.
Florida's liberal attitude with its citizens, especially those on the
road, was another selling point. For instance, if you were caught
speeding in the Northern states, you could expect to be cited. In
Florida you seldom would be stopped for speeding. In fact, in some
instances, the state encouraged motorists to go faster. On the
Miami/Miami Beach Causeway, a sign notified drivers that they must travel
at least 25 mph. Relatively flat roads with few dangerous curves
helped allow faster travel by motorists.
These factors made Florida an attractive place for people to visit or to
relocate to, which they did in astounding numbers. In 1918, 57,000
campers called Florida home for at least a brief time; by 1925 that
number had risen to 300,000, with 65 percent of them hailing from Midwest
states. From this wave of tourists sprouted several camper
organizations, most notably the Tin Can Tourists (see
Tin Can Tourists
Traveling equipment for the motor camper. Anyone who traveled in
any kind of motor vehicle needed to have at least the essentials before
starting the trip. Frank Brimmer listed such essentials in his
article titled "If You Should Go Camping," which appeared in the
June 1927 issue of American Motorist. These included a
storm-proof tent ($40-$65); camp beds -- with or without resilient
springs; a comfortable cotton mattress ($25); and an efficient gas
According to the article, car repairs,
accessories, tires, food, clothing, amusement, and souvenirs -- the
necessities nd luxuries of traveling -- would cost campers $2 a day, per
person. A two-week vacation for a party of four in 1927 would have
set the group back approximately $112. Of course, today's travelers
enjoy vehicles that have air conditioning, indoor plumbing, satellite TV,
digital phones, and even laptop computers to make their trip comfortable.
While there weren't any motorhome manufacturers at the time,
wealthy camping enthusiasts could have a coach custom built for
them, such as this self-contained, all-electric motorhome built in
of travel. During the early days of motor travel, it wasn't easy
to get around the country in a car. Automobile trips were fraught
with unknowns, as Carl D. King described in his book, Model T Days . .
. Florida or Bust. "We depended upon roadside signs that
pointed out direction and indicated the distance to the next town,"
he wrote. "We had an old out-of-date AAA-approved Blue Book ---
this little publication was the predecessor of our present-day road map.
It gave written verbal directions and distances to points along the
way. We managed, eventually, to reach our destination. We
would occasionally make a wrong turn and come to a sudden dead end out in
the lonesome nowhere."
Getting lost was a mere inconvenience compared to
other difficulties voyagers might expect during their journey. Flat
tires, running out of gas because sporadic filling station locations, and
mechanical troubles were only a few of the problems hardy travelers faced
as they wound their way southward. The primitive roads linking the
small towns along the way to Florida were not made to handle this type of
mass migration. More vehicles and slow drivers caused increased
traffic congestion. Bad weather also took its toll on
travelers. Rain and snow made many roads impassible, and the
non-insulated, sometimes leaky canvas tents provided little shelter from
storms. Bug invasions were a common nuisance as well, especially if
netting wasn't available to keep the pests at bay.
Worst of all, according to an excerpt from a
December 1925 issue of American Motorist, was the all-too-frequent
interference from Prohibition agents who apparently believed all motor
tourists were rumrunners. Because of the proximity to the Bahamas
and Cuba, Florida had serious liquor prohibition enforcement
problems. Florida law enforcement officials -- and those throughout
the United States -- would randomly stop and search cars on the chance
that they might find a flask of liquor. In one instance, it was
reported that an elderly woman in Louisiana was subjected to indignities
because she had less than a pint in her car . . . and it was legally
purchased on a doctor's prescription! The practice became so
intolerable that the Hoosier Club found it necessary to warn motorists to
avoid Indiana even as the state was in the midst of a campaign to attract
Because of these recurring instances and mounting
citizen's complaints, Lincoln Andrews, the assistant secretary of the U.
S. Department of the Treasury, instructe regional administrators to
concentrate on the "big game" and leave the innocent motorists
from cities and towns. Realizing the economic importance of
these southbound travelers, city and town officials built tourists camps
and recreation centers. Florida's Chamber of Commerce contributed to
the push with favorable newspaper articles publicizing great land
investment deals in the Sunshine State. Promoters, architects, and
engineers created the world-known "Florida Lifestyle,"
which emphasized the state's warm climate and abundant opportunities for
The biggest obstacle to getting people into and
around the state was the quantity and quality of roads. In 1923
construction of an east-west thoroughfare (US 41) through the Everglades,
connecting Miami to Naples, was started. A delay in financing slowed
the project, causing one caravan to drive across the uncompleted
road. For these poor motorists, the approximately 100-mile drive
turned into a 10-day trek through a creature- and bug-infested
environment. Once the route was completed, however, it became a
heavily used cross-state thoroughfare. Because of its popularity,
the state extended the route north from Naples to Tampa. In 1928,
the 283-mile Tamiami Trail, linking Tampa to Miami was completed.
There was even a Florida Short Route Association
that created a map called "The Florida Short Route." This
guide helped people from as far away as Lake Superior make an easier trek
through the states to Florida by plotting out various routes from northern
cities. The association marked state roads and displayed orange
"F.S.R." signs on the roads in the South to make sure travelers
could find their way to paradise.
Florida wasn't the only state to realize the
enormous growth of traveling campers. New York City entered the race
by panning a 300-acre camping site at the proposed Bronx airport.
The site would accommodate motorists attending the 1939 New York World's
Fair and included a general store, a drugstore, a filling station, and
emergency hospital, a restaurant, and a community kitchen.
Other states were also impacted by the increasing
number of vagabond travelers. In 1936 California asked for federal
assistance to pay for the schooling of 50,000 trailer children.
Legislation was enacted in several states to help ease these problems, but
the government found it difficult to legislate to someone who could just
pack up and go to another state.
The self-sufficient travelers also drew the ire
of other industries. Hotel, restaurant, and real estate owners
protested that the tourists were bad for business, and they complained to
government officials. The National Association of Motor Vehicle
Manufacturers pleaded to the government for a uniform licensing law and
safety standards. In a 1936 article from the New York Times
titled "Gasoline Gypsies," it was reported that Flint, Michigan
banned motor tourists unless their ambulatory residences conformed to the
local housing regulations. On some roads, automobiles and trailers
were banned because they were classified as trucks. And legislators
considered ways of taxing motor tourists both as highway users and
Some towns and most of the exclusive communities,
such as Palm Beach, Florida, put up signs that read "No Trailers
Allowed." Many towns passed rigid restrictions on sanitation
and other matters that affected mobile travelers and permanent
residents. Public health officials began drafting laws to regulate
the disposal of trailer garbage and waste.
The growing trend. Restrictions, regulations, and general
harassment couldn't deter the swarm of motor tourists invading
Florida. The popularity of mobile traveling gave way to newer and
fancier homes on wheels. In the 1930's, Airstream and other
manufacturers began producing many types of trailers, some for those with
moderate incomes and others for the affluent. During the 1940s and
'50s, motorhomes began to show up more prominently. Some had modest
accessories while others boasted luxurious interiors. Of course,
today's motor coaches have all the amenities of home, making travel much
less adventuresome than it was during the early part of the 20th century,
when four wheels, a load of canned goods, and a thirst for discovery was
all a family needed for a season-long vacation.