Tin Can Tourists
The Twentieth Century Pioneer
With the arrival of the 20th century, Americans continued in the pioneering spirit of their forbearers and took to their automobiles to explore the great unknown. Thousands of Americans packed their vehicles with their tents, an extra 5-gallon can of gasoline, lots of canned food, and a spare tire or two, and began exploring the country in a manner not unlike Lewis and Clark. They became the symbol of restless, adventuresome America, overflowing with curiosity. These were the Tin Can Tourists.
These pioneers weren’t travelling because of economic hardship in search of a better source of income. These were quite often middle-aged folks who had their fling at earning a living and now wanted to live “the life of Riley.” They were families of retired and working Americans and Canadians, many of whom were businessmen, lawyers, doctors, dentists, merchants, policemen, war veterans, jewelers, and people in show business who worked in the summer.
|The Dixie Highway Opens the Gates|
After the completion of the Dixie Highway from Montreal to Miami in 1915, the number of automobile tourists to Florida increased dramatically every year, and Florida’s rural areas and small towns began to change as well. The 1920s featured a faith in the material growth of the nation and with Florida’s natural allure, caused much of the state to seemingly mushroom overnight. According to one local historian, “it seemed that all the people of the Midwest and farming regions of the North were coming to Florida to spend the winter in their trailers.” Lured by the accounts of friends who had visited the area, intrigued by Florida sunshine and sand, and spurred in the 1920s by the mobility of Henry Ford’s inexpensive cars, the numbers of immigrants to the state steadily increased.
Parade celebrating the opening of the Dixie Highway, Dania, FL 1915
The Dixie Highway system in 1923
|The automobile and the prosperity of the nation after World War I made possible the first great tourist invasion of Florida. The winter of 1919-20 marked the arrival of the so-called Tin Can Tourists; visitors driving homemade mobile trailers and eating out of tin cans. Cars from all over the North headed to Florida piled high with bedding, tents, and boxes of canned food. In no time at all the highways leading south were crowded, and the Tin canners swarmed over the south Florida landscape. Celebration of the Dixie Highway opening in Brevard County, FL. Tin Can Tourists In Florida|
Tin Can Tourists Take to the Roads
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.
Panoramas of Tin Can Tourists at De Soto Park, Tampa – 1920
The Formation of the Tin Can Tourists of the World
|The Tin Can Tourists were organized at De Soto Park, Tampa, Florida, in 1919 and received their official state charter a year later. The association formed to coordinate the conventions of the new and expanding practitioners of automobile-camper travel, with their stated objective as, “to unite fraternally all autocampers”. Their guiding principles were clean camps, friendliness among campers, decent behavior and to secure plenty of clean, wholesome entertainment for those in camp. The group known for the soldered tin can on their radiator caps grew rapidly during the twenties and thirties.||Members could be inducted by fellow campers through an initiation process that taught the prospective member the secret handshake, sign, and password. After singing the official song “The More We Get Together” the trailerite was an official member of the Tin Can Tourists of the World. 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.|
|Membership in the organization provided a clear distinction between those who travelled the for fun and recreation and those who travelled due to economic hardship. It is difficult to distinguish the tin-canners of the early 1920s from the Okies of the late 1920s in old photos. The Tin Can Tourists organization provided the distinction. The formation of the organization gave the Tin canners a high degree of clout. Municipalities throughout the nation began to realize influx of seasonal visitors to their area could help boost the local economy, so many towns and private citizens began to develop areas to accommodate them.|
Tin canner men relax while woman washes clothes at De Soto Park, Christmas Day – 1920
|De Soto Park, Tampa|
Tampa, much to its credit, provided the best facilities available at the time at a location in De Soto Park, on the shores of Tampa Bay. Camp sites were free, as was nightly entertainment. In the early years, the park was little more than a clearing in the trees, but soon there was plumbing with hot and cold running water available, and for only fifty cents weekly, children from the camp could attend school in the Hillsborough County system.
Tin canners and their tents at De Soto Park, 1920
|De Soto Park is located at the northeast end of McKay Bay in Tampa (not to be confused with Fort De Soto Park founded on Mullet Key about 1955, in the St. Petersburg area.)|
|Tin Can Tourists at De Soto Park, 1920http://digital.hcplc.org/burgert/archive01/754.jpg|
The Tin Canners were the harbingers of the wild speculation of the boom years. Annual “convocations” were held for years here and in Arcadia during the winter tourist rush. In 1921, there were approximately 17,000 members throughout the the US and Canada. Tampa itself had a total population of only 51,608 in 1920, and the impact of masses of tourists spurred the fantastic speculation of the era.
A crowd of Tin canners gathers around a man offering pony rides, De Soto Park, 1920
|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.|
Tin canners at De Soto Park, 1920
| The Florida Land Boom of the 1920s|
The boom of the early twenties sent land values skyrocketing. Real estate speculation was rampant and furious. In 1920 a 40-acre parcel of Florida land sold for about $45; four years later it sold for $40,000. In the Tampa Bay area, men such as D. P. “Doc” Davis parlayed their vision and salesmanship into millions of dollars of profit. Indeed, on the west coast, the newly opened Gandy Bridge symbolized the era of prosperity and development that had engulfed the region.
On Florida’s Gold Coast the land boom was even more explosive. Between 1921 and 1925 the payroll of the city of Miami grew 2,449 per cent. The assessed value of property in the city jumped 560 per cent in that same time span. The value of issued building permits skyrocketed from $4.48 million to $58.65 million. During the “Florida Boom,” it was estimated that in 1925 the state spent $400 million on building construction; $50 million on railway track and equipment; and $7.5 million on 286 miles of new state highway. Moreover, tourists spent $250 million in Florida during the 1924-25 winter season. This cycle of gambling, greed and glut continued until the Florida land boom bust in 1926.
See Tampapix feature D.P. Davis and his Islands
See Tampapix feature The Gandy Bridge, First to Span Tampa Bay
|The main thoroughfare through De Soto Park was named “Easy Street” by the Tin canners. This way, they could legitimately write home to friends and family that they were in Florida, living on Easy Street.Charles T. Falles, known as the “Mayor of Easy Street,” was the organization’s first Royal Sergent.|
|Former St. Pete mayor Al Lang had an axe to grind with the Tin Can Tourists and referred to the 1920 campers as “undesirables” and criticized them for starting a grocery store on city property, in competition with local merchants. He advised Miami to “lay off catering to this class of tourist” and said “they are of no benefit to a town whatsoever.”Read the entire article|
|Al Lang, mayor from 1916 to 1920, lured the first baseball teams to train in St. Petersburg, starting with the St. Louis Browns in 1914. “Before Al Lang came along, St. Petersburg was viewed by baseball as little more than blip on the map,” wrote author and baseball historian Wes Singletary. “He changed all that.” Baseball had already discovered Florida in 1888 when the Washington Nationals began training in Jacksonville. The Chicago Cubs discovered Tampa in 1913. But Lang wanted the sport in St. Petersburg, believing it would boost tourism. He died in 1960 at age 89. Remembering Al Lang, St. Pete’s Mr. Baseball|
De Soto Park Closed to Tin Can Tourists
|Summer reunions for the Tin Can Tourists were held at various Midwest locations, with Traverse City, Michigan serving as a primary host city. The club spent winters at Desoto Park in Tampa until 1924. Many native Floridians did not welcome the vagabond travelers with open arms — in 1924, Tampa locals grew tired of their park being overrun with northerners and forced the closing of DeSoto Park to rid the city of the Tin Can Tourists shortly after the group was formed. Yet, the organization continued to flourish. The canners took the hint and moved the Winter Convention to Arcadia, where the community had built a municipal park especially for the Tin Can Tourists.|
Tin canners and their dog at De Soto Park, Christmas day, 1920
Above: House car named Harriet at Tin Can Tourists convention: Arcadia,1929 Harriett belonged to Mrs. Harriett Warren, Mrs. Flora Kavanaugh, and Westel Ashe, all of Brattleboro, Vermont.
Left: Preparing BBQ at Aracadia Tin Can Tourist convention, 1920s
BBQ buffet at the Arcadia convention, 1920s
State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/33797
1922 Membership Card
Tin Can tourists camping at Gadsden Point, 1921
|Tin Can Tourist camp in Gainesville, 1922|
Notice the sign on the right column, “No Peddlers Allowed.”State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,http://floridamemory.com/items/show/1211
Royal Chief Otho Granford Shoup at Gainesville, 1922
Otho G. Shoup was born around 1868 in Pennsylvania and grew up in Scranton. He then moved to Detroit around 1909 where he worked as mason and contractor for Interstate building and Land Co. until around 1923. By 1925, he and his wife Rose had settled in Gainesville, FL, where they lived until at least 1945.
State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/1210
|Tin Can Tourist Camp at Gainesville, 1920s|
State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,http://floridamemory.com/items/show/29400
|Tin Can Tourists in Gainesville, circa 1922. Seated in front of the table on the right is Otho Shoup. To the right of him is his wife, Rose.State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,http://floridamemory.com/items/show/1212|
Thatched hut at a campsite in Palmetto, 1922
Palmetto is the area located just west and southwest of De Soto Park,
bordered on the west by 22nd St. and on the north by Adamo Drive
Six Mile Creek
Hillsborough County’s Palm River is south of State Road 60 / Adamo Drive and flows into McKay bay south of Ybor City. Upstream, the Palm River bends towards the north and was called Six Mile Creek. Here was where Plant’s railroad first entered the area. In the first half of the 20th century if you were traveling into Tampa from Brandon, Plant City, Lakeland or any other community to the East you had to travel down Broadway over an old bridge spanning Six Mile Creek. Surrounding the bridge was the small community of Six Mile Creek that contained a market and service station ready to meet the needs of travelers. When settlers first came to the area they set up farms along the creek and river. As the area grew industrial factories began to set up shop near the creek and river shores.
Jack’s Place, Green Gable Tourist Camp & the Oaks Restaurant, Tampa – 1927
Burgert Brothers, Digital Florida Studies Center Gallery http://scholarcommons.usf.edu/flstud_gallery/273
|Conventions Gain Popularity|
The Tin Can Tourists 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.
Housecar from Minneapolis at the Arcadia convention, 1929
|The annual trek, fueling the twin industries of tourism and real estate, suffered during the depression years. But by 1932, with membership on the increase, city Chambers of Commerce were actively pursuing Tin Can Tourists to choose their community for either Homecoming, Winter Convention or Going Home meets. The Winter Convention was the best attended and was an economic boon to the host community.|
|Sarasota’s Convention Bid|
It was not until 1932 that Sarasota hosted the winter convention of the Tin Can Tourists. In 1931, Mayor E.A. Smith and other community leaders decided to lure the annual TCT convention away from Arcadia, where it had been conducted for a number of years.
|A motorcade of nearly 250 cars drove from Sarasota to Arcadia, parking in the camp. Carrying banners inviting the TCT to Sarasota, community leaders distributed free copies of the Sarasota Herald and gave speeches promoting the change in venue. The Sarasota Bay Post 30 American Legion Band presented a concert to the 2,000 campers. When the vote was counted, Sarasota had won the contest. The vote on the Winter Convention site was hotly contested. Many Canners were loyal to Arcadia, the town that wanted them after their ejection from Tampa. As a concession to those that favored Arcadia, it was designated as the official site for Homecoming festivities.|
|Their arrival in January was headline news for the city that had fallen on hard economic times: “SARASOTA WELCOMES TCT FOLK.” For the locals still suspect of the group, given its Tin Can name, Royal Chief R.W. Vaughn informed them that the group was made up of respectable people from all walks of life: doctors, lawyers, manufacturers, preachers and bankers and noted that they “spent hundreds of thousands of dollars every year for gasoline, oil, tires, new cars, motor repair and upkeep.” The group gathered annually around Payne Park, and their community later morphed into the Sarasota Mobile Home Park.|
|By 1938 the organization had grown to approximately 30,000 members and incorporated as Tin Can Tourists of the World. More than 3,000 “nomads” from 45 states, Canada and two foreign countries poured into Sarasota. Several thousand campers attended each year and participated in a variety of activities. The annual TCT parade along Main Street included trailers from the modern to the historic, floats representing the camper’s home states, clowns and a number of bands. In 1938, the mayor of Sarasota indicated that the national perception that Sarasota was a tin can tourist’s town was hurting the community and that he would not renew the Winter Convention contract.|
See present-day photo of the Sykes College of Business
Camp Nebraska at 10314 N. Nebraska Ave. in Tampa
USF Special Collections, Burgert Bros. http://digital.lib.usf.edu/?d32.595
Watch these videos: Travel Trailer Life in 1937 Florida Snowbird Park Blue Sky Barber Shop Tin Can Tourist Cartoon
Tampa Municipal Tourist Camp
Tampa then offered the tin-canners a five-year deal to return to Tampa. It was accepted and the Winter Convention returned to specially built Tampa Municipal Park in 1939.
In 1938-39, Tampa municipal tourist camp opened at 2300 N. Oregon Ave. to host the 1939 convention. Managed by Fred W. Holtzman with his wife, Violet Holtzman as “Hostess”, the park was located along the west bank of the Hillsborough River just south of Columbus Drive, bordered by Rome Ave. on the west and Spruce St. on the south.
The 1945 Tampa street map shows the location of Tampa Municipal Tourist Camp.
The newly completed western ranch-style community house at Tampa Municipal Tourist Camp, 1937
Fred Holtzman, manager, 1939
A Christmas party at the community house, 1939
Hostess Violet Holtzman, 1939
LIFE Magazine, 1939
Jan 26, 1930 St. Pete Times
|The group soon faced membership declines due to combination of factors. A division within the ranks of the Tin Can Tourists, the formation of ATA, the Automobile Tourists Association, an economic recession in 1939 that greatly diminished the number of trailer manufactures, and the onset of World War II.|
Postcard circa 1939
In 1942, the 22nd annual meeting of the Tin Can tourists was expected to bring 2,000 trailers with 6,000 tourists from Feb 16 to Mar 2.
A couple of young campers having dinner in their trailer, 1946. Young couples comprised a small percentage of trailerites and even smaller percentage of Tin Can Tourists. Most young couples were newlyweds just starting out on scant budgets and stayed put.
State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/55586
|Post-War Tin Canners|
After World War II, more and more Americans took to the open road to explore the nation and spend vacations in their vehicles. Although the increasing number of hotels and resorts eventually caused a decline in camper-traveling, ever-more-sophisticated trailers and campers allowed people more comfort and convenience as they sought to combine leisure with their love of traveling. Winter Convention photographs depict a smaller group in 1948 at Tampa. By this time, the park was managed by Hal and Ann Carder.
Mrs. Charlie Treffert serves refreshments to fellow Tin canners at Tampa Municipal Trailer Park, 1948
|Typical Tin Can Tourists|
In 1948, the Tin Can Tourists of the World members numbered 80,000 strong. Cities clamored to host the convention with hopes of netting the $200 to $300 a month each Tin canner spent. Typically, Tin canners were around age 50 to 65 and either had no children or had grownup ones Families of two owned 61% of the trailers. Families of three and four, 38% and larger families, the remaining 1%. The sentiment of the majority of older trailerites was that a trailer camp was not the right atmosphere for children. Most parks had an area designated for families with children, but families with dogs were not zoned. A considerable percentage were retired farmers, policemen, firemen, and civil servants, living on pensions or the rent from houses they own.
25th annual convention at Tampa Municipal Trailer Park, 1948
|The average joint annual income of married trailerites was around $3,000. Some of their income came from government bonds, purchased while still working a job. They spent very little time in their hometown and 3/4ths of them prefered their trailer to a permanent home. With the first hint of cold weather, they headed for Florida and returned back up north around May. “True trailerites” were mobile and referred to permanent residents who removed their wheels as “squatters.” At the 1948 convention, about a third of the 1,600 trailers were “squatters.” Gambling, drinking and rough language were considered to be not in keeping with Tin Can Tourists’ ideals of social behavior.|
|Wednesdays and Saturdays were dance nights at the park. The military schottische, a favorite among trailerites, is a lively group dance seldom seen outside of trailer park circles.Listen to a sample of the Military Schottische|
In addition to the Tin Can Tourists conventions, Tampa Municipal Trailer park hosted many events through the years. In early April, 1954, the 2nd annual Florida Square and Folk Dance Festival, sponsored by the Tampa Recreation Dept. and Florida Square Dance Callers and Teachers Association was held in Tampa with one night featuring a dance in the Municipal Trailer Park gym where callers from 21 state areas presented their style. The grand climax of the 3 day event was a mass square dance at Plant field with over 1,000 dancers expected. The Rockhounds of Tampa Bay Mineral and Science Club held their event there 1957.
|Tampa Municipal Trailer Park was still hosting the annual Tin Can tourist gatherings in March of 1966 when the 43rd annual convention of the Tin Can Tourists of the World held its two-week long session there. The Royal Chief of the club was Richmond Chapin of Traverse City, Mich. In 1966 it was held in Ocala.The Gym and Auditorium was used throughout the year for other events: Gradually, these tourist camps began to diminish in importance as small and affordable motels replaced them in the 1950s and 1960s. 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.|
Campers in Thonotosassa, 1961
State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, http://floridamemory.com/items/show/78504
The Final Tin Can Tourists Convention
By the mid 1970s and 80s, the towed house trailer was replaced by the all-in-one recreational vehicle, or “RV.” As the number of Tin Can Tourists dwindled in the 1960s and 1970s, the original club’s last winter reunion took place in 1978 at Eustis RV Park, Eustis, Florida.
Harry McDonald, Jim Flannery and Foster Little at Eustis, FL 1979
|Tin Can Tourists Resurrected|
The Tin Can Tourists of the World then experienced a 20-year hiatus that ended in 1998 when Michigan high school teacher and coach Forest Bone and his wife, Jeri, resurrected the organization. The reconstituted Tin Can Tourists’ first gathering in 1998 in Milford, Michigan, drew 21 units. Their 2010 Winter Convention on Feb. 25-28 at Lake Manatee State Park east of Bradenton drew 50 RVs and about 120 people on a first-come first-serve basis due to site restrictions.
At the beginning of 2010, the club had 834 remembers, down from just over 1,000 at the start of 2009. The downturn was attributed to gas prices and the economy, but membership was returning. The Tin Can Tourists 12th Annual Gathering at Camp Dearborn in Milford, Mich., was held in May of 2010, along with two other regional gatherings scheduled that same weekend in New York and New Mexico.
|In addition, three other local gatherings were planned in 2010 in Michigan and three in Florida while regional rallies were planned in Canada, California, Washington, Arizona and New York.Today, Tin Can Tourists typically own vintage units but it’s not required. Still, 75% of Tin Can Tourist members own vintage trailers. Shasta, Serro Scotty and Airstream brands are popular. There are lots of ‘canned ham’ trailers that look like Shastas that were manufactured in the ’50s. The cost of membership in Tin Can Tourists is minimal — only $20 a year. And more than 800 members are led regionally by seven representatives in North America and others in the United Kingdom and Japan who provide input to the organization and run Tin Can Tourists get-togethers|
|From Camps to Trailer Parks|
The fondness of many of Florida’s millions of visitors and new residents for leisurely accom-modations and vacationing helped establish new communities that catered to people looking to stay for extended periods without living in one location year-around. Still other places, such as trailer parks, offered both the chance to put down roots and to pick up stakes and move on when the time was right.
|Florida is a state well-suited for those who choose impermanence as a lifestyle. In some cases, however, trailer parks and resort camping areas became so well-established that they constituted new towns in themselves. Florida cities that experienced tremendous growth, prosperity and popularity as vacation and relocation destinations, such as Sarasota, also benefited from their trailer parks which helped draw visitors and new residents.Trailer parks proved particularly attractive areas for the thousands of retirees that annually chose Florida as their new homes. Successful parks gained enough population and established enough infrastructures to be incorporated as distinct towns. Trailer parks also provided necessary housing for the droves of new workers brought to areas of Florida transformed by new industries such as Cape Canaveral, the center of United States space-age development in the late 1950s and 1960s.|
645 Tourist Trailers Jam the Tampa Municipal Trailer Park LIFE Magazine Jan 30, 1939 issue
Tampa Bay History, Vol 14 # 1 The Carousel of Progress, Palmetto
Tampa Bay History Vol. 15 #2 “Mass Culture Meets Main St.”
Traveling to Paradise: Tin Can Tourists on Parade
Travel Trailer Life in 1937 Florida Snowbird Park
Blue Sky Barber Shop