Rewriting RV History

About two years ago we were contacted by an author named Andrew Woodmansey who wanted to talk about the Tin Can Tourists for a book that he was working on called “Recreational Vehicles – A World History 1872 -1939“. We shared some emails back and forth and I was impressed by his level of research.

He didn’t just accept my claims but wanted proof and documentation. I remember joking with him, “why won’t you just believe me?” as I was sending him links to documents and proof. He said, “My apologies I didn’t mean to question your judgement on the story, it’s just that there’s a lot of keen RV historians out there and anything “new” that comes up, their first question is “what’s your source”? Good on you for doing the research.”

This was atypical and refreshing from the typical emails I get requesting information for a website post or news story. They do an interview or send email questions and then rewrite the story to make it more interesting while getting 30% of the information wrong.

I was excited to work with Andrew and see where his book was heading. But then COVID hit, and I forgot about our communications. I was surprised to receive a book this week in the mail and had completely forgot about our conversations.

Opening the book and thumbing through it, I was really impressed. The level of details and information is impressive. The photos are beautiful.

Then I got to the Tin Can Tourists portion and read that thoroughly. It was the best description of the club I had ever read. Andrew nailed it. To the point I asked him and his publisher if I could use the writeup on our website. Thankfully, they agreed. I’ve added it to the TCT Info menu but here it is:

Getting Together – The Tin Can Tourists (1919)

America’s early RV users began to get organized in 1919. The ‘Tin Can Tourists’ was America’s first RV club. They formed at Desoto Park in Tampa, Florida in 1919 in order to ‘unite fraternally all autocampers’. A secondary objective was to clearly distinguish those who camped by choice from those who travelled due to economic hardship. The confusion between the two groups caused much frustration to early recreational campers.

Meetings of ‘Canners’, known as Homecomings, Winter Conventions or Going Home meets, were held around the country, with the Winter Convention taking place in Florida each year. By 1921, the organisation had 17,000 members in the USA and Canada which swelled to over 100,000 in 1924. Initially regarded with some scepticism by local communities and the media, the Tin Can Tourists were by the 1930s broadly welcomed. During the 1930s, trailer manufacturers would often attend the Canners’ camps in order to sell their trailers.

The major contribution of Tin Can Tourists to RV history in America was the creation of a community of like-minded people who could come together regardless of the type of RV they owned. They cemented the RV as a recognized, democratic and enjoyable leisure pursuit, creating in the process an important social and photographic record of camping with vehicles during the 1920s and 1930s. The organisation continued to hold meets into the 1980s and was re-formed in 1998.


from Recreational Vehicles: A World History 1872-1939 by Andrew Woodmansey published by Pen & Sword Books.

Andrew Woodmansey is an RV historian based in Sydney, Australia. His book Recreational Vehicles: A World History 1872-1939 is published by Pen & Sword and is available to buy here. Andrew also has a blog at rvhistory.com.

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