The following is taken from the December 2001 issue of Family Motor Coaching

The Tale Of The Tin Can Tourists

     The lure of Florida, with its palm trees, sandy beaches, and warm ocean breezes, drew thousands of travelers to the Sunshine State during the early part of the 20th century.  While these tourists came from different places with various backgrounds, they all had one thing in common: they were automobile adventurers.  Friendships eventually led to the formation of automobile travel groups.  The most celebrated of the time was the Tin Can Tourists.
     The Tin Can Tourists was formally organized in 1919 at DeSoto Park in Tampa, Florida.  The organization's goals were to provide members safe and clean camping areas, wholesome entertainment, and high moral values.  Members were identified by the tin can they had soldered to their automobile radiator cap.  To qualify as a Tin Can Tourist, an applicant had to be at least 12 years of age and of good moral character; must be living in a tent, car house, car, trailer, or camp (tourist) cottage, on or near the site of a meeting at the time of application for membership was made; and must apply for membership in person.  They shared secret handshakes and hand signs as well as an official theme song, "The more We Get Together."
     Even before the organization was officially formed, the name "tin can tourist" was given to motorists who could live for weeks or months out of their vehicles.  One member said, "The called us tin can tourists, because of our cars (Model Ts or Tin Lizzies) and the fact that canned food was frequently on our menus."  It was common for these travelers to fill their vehicles with enough canned food before the journey to last the duration of the trip, much to the chagrin of restaurants and hotels.  In fact, the Tin Can Tourists were notorious around Florida for being thrifty.
     Although many native Floridians did not welcome the vagabond travelers with open arms -- Tampa citizens forced the closing of DeSoto Park to rid the city of the Tin Can Tourists shortly after the group was formed -- the organization continued to flourish.  Its conventions grew in size and began to include commercial vendors coming from points throughout the country.  By the early 1930s, Florida communities recognized the impact of the tourists -- even Tampa city officials begged the group to return.  Though one of the rules of being a Tin Can Tourist was that a member couldn't own property in Florida, the group is said to have had a significant impact on the booming land development in the state.  Many snowbirds would decide to stay permanently, while others returned to their homes in the Midwest with wonderful stories about the Sunshine State.
     By 1938 the organization had grown to approximately 30,000 members.  That year it incorporated and changed its name to the Tin Can Tourists of the World.  Throughout most of its history, the group convened for its winter meetings in Florida and its summer gatherings in a northern locale, quite often around Traverse City, Michigan.

The main order of business at these conventions, led by the organization's leader (appropriately named the Royal Can Opener), was to decide where and when to stage the next convention.  The rest of the time -- which for some members could last months before and after the conventions -- was devoted to horseshoe matches, card games, baseball, and dancing.
     According to the club's bookkeeper, membership in the association peaked at 100,000 in 1963.  Exactly when or why the group disbanded is unknown, but records indicate that by the 1970s the annual conventions had ceased and the Tin Can Tourists of the World was no longer in existence.
     In 1998 Forrest and Jeri Bone revitalized  the organization, which now includes 280 members.  According to the group's Web site, the modern-day Tin Can Tourists are "Committed to the celebration of classic trailers and motor coaches through annual gatherings of owners and friends."  The group holds annual gatherings at Camp Dearborn in Milford, Michigan, on the Thursday through Sunday before Memorial Day.  A winter rally will be held at the Royal Palms in Kissimmee, Florida, from Wednesday, January 23 to Sunday, January 27, 2002.
     To find out more about the Tin Can Tourists, visit the organization's Web site at  For membership information, contact Forrest Bone, 4 High Street, Bradenton, FL 34208.
     Historical information about the original Tin Can Tourists and Florida's automotive tourists industry can be found at the Museum of Florida History, 500 S Bronough Street, Tallahassee, FL 32399-0250; (850)-488-1484;; and the Florida History, 435 Brevard Avenue, Cocoa, FL 32922; (321)-690-1971:

                    A 1920s Tin Can Tourists Gathering