Trending: Summer Vacation

All across the country, people are traveling for summer vacation. The Library’s collections document this age-old trend.

A contemporary country road in rural America. Photo by Carol Highsmith. Prints and Photographs Division.

HOTEL RESERVATIONS? CHECK. CAR GASSED UP? CHECK. It’s time for summer vacation. Prior to industrialization, people rarely traveled for pleasure, with the exception of the wealthy and those making religious pilgrimages.

The advent of paved roads in the early 1900s helped propel automobile travel in the United States, making cross-country travel possible. The Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 authorized the construction of the nation’s Interstate System— now totaling more than 47,000 miles. Last summer, Americans traveled more than 520 billion miles on those roads, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

Today most people navigate the highways and byways with the aid of such handy technology as GPS systems and Google maps for their smartphones. But that doesn’t mean that road maps are a thing of the past. State road maps are available free from most states today, thanks to tourism bureaus and automobile clubs.

In 2001, Library map cataloger Charles Peterson donated his personal collection of 16,000 oil company roadmaps to the Library’s Geography and Map Division. With the bulk of material from such maps’ heyday, 1948-1973, the collection complements a substantial collection of similar material dating back to the early 20th century.

Travel and tourism are well-documented in the Library’s Prints and Photographs Division. The Panoramic Photograph Collection features many images of travel destinations such as amusement parks, beaches, fairs, hotels and resorts. Several years ago, the Library’s Junior Fellows Summer Interns discovered novelty postcards located among the copyright deposits and gifts that have come into the nation’s library. A wide variety of travel destinations are represented in this visual format.

A 1946 postcard promotes the Wheeler Dam in Decatur, Ala. Curt Teich & Co., Inc. Prints and Photographs Collection.

The Library’s American Memory collection “By the People, For the People: Posters from the Works Progress Administration (WPA), 1936-1943” includes a variety of artful and colorful posters promoting tourism during the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s.

Noted photographer Carol M. Highsmith has been on the road with her camera, capturing images of present-day California as part of her multi-state “This is America!” project. The images have been donated to the Library and are available, copyright free, to the public (see story on page 27).

This article is featured in the July-August 2013 issue of the Library of Congress Magazine, LCM, now available for download here. You can also view the archives of the Library’s former publication from 1993 to 2011.

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