American camp culture: a history of recreational vehicle development and leisure camping in the United States, 1890-1960

Harmon, David
Major Professor
Alan I. Marcus
Committee Member
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This study looks at the relationship between technology and its social and cultural context by examining the ways in which changing ideas and attitudes about camp vehicles and leisure camping shaped recreational vehicle technology. It focuses on the period, roughly 1890 to 1960, when leisure camping and recreational vehicles were in their formative years, when American popular culture publications celebrated recreational vehicle travel, and when recreational vehicle manufacturing matured into a dynamic, billion-dollar industry. Looking at what social values and ideas prompted the selection of a technology, and second, what new values and ideas may have then prompted the shift from one technology to another, this study examines two different but related topics---recreational camping and recreational vehicle technology. It contends that changes in the former led to changes in the latter.;This study recounts the roots of recreational camping and America's relation to the pastoral landscape to show that as "the art of camping" became more popular, and accessible, equipment manufacturers and suppliers worked to advance new ideas in camping goods. The role of the automobile is emphasized to document distinct changes that occurred in leisure-time camping once increased individual mobility via the automobile came to the fore. Accompanying the dramatic growth in autocamping, manufacturers and suppliers expanded to meet the needs of a growing commercial market. The role of select engineers and modern designers in establishing the trailer coach industry and advancing new ideas are discussed as well as the role of aircraft technology, aeronautical engineering, and technological transfer.;Americans used a variety of recreational vehicles and camping equipment to fulfill their autocamping needs. New designs and materials, sometimes borrowed from railroad, automobile, and aircraft manufacturing, reflected the desires of users and the efforts of businesses in meeting those changing needs. What began with a few manufacturers supplying tents and camp paraphernalia, within fifty years developed into a dynamic industry producing an array of products for a diverse American market including tent-trailers, auto-conversions, trailer coaches, fifth-wheel trailers, truck campers, and motor homes. This study documents those changes.