Hitting the Road: Motor Camping with the Early Tin Can Tourists

As automobiles became more affordable in the first decades of the 20th century, Americans hit the road in record numbers. Once they discovered the freedom automobile ownership brought, individuals and families alike headed out determined to “See America First.” As many traveled using canned food along the way, “tin can tourists” was but one descriptive term applied to the early motor campers.

By 1919, a more formal organization was founded calling themselves the Tin Can Tourists. The rapid growth of this new organization paralleled the explosive growth of motor camping in general during the decade of the 1920s. Because an extensive network of roadside businesses had yet to be developed, these early auto tourists found that they had to carry all of their necessities with them. From basic shelter (a tent with folding cots) to food storage (a running board pantry) to cooking and lighting (a gasoline stove and lantern), these modern gypsies traveled, for the most part, self-contained and self-sufficient.

About Daniel Hershberger

For nearly four decades, Daniel Hershberger has been involved in the research and documentation of the American roadside. He has taught undergraduate as well as graduate-level courses on roadside history at colleges and universities and conducted classes for the Henry Ford Museum. Over the years, he has made numerous presentations at international conferences, for historic preservation organizations, and at various museums. His unique motor camping exhibit has been a feature at Greenfield Village’s Old Car Festival since 2002.

The Studebaker Museum Speaker Series, presented by the Campisi Family Education Fund, is held in the Wiekamp Auditorium. Regular lecture admission is $2. Regular admission fees apply to tour the Studebaker National Museum and The History Museum. Studebaker National Museum and Campus members are admitted free!

*Dates and prices are subject to change*

  • June 17, 2020
  • 1:30 pm - 1:30 pm