Camping Roots Run Deep
Johnson Outdoors Inc.
Camping is the oldest
way of living. There is hardly an adult who does not long for the
simplicity of the open road or the campsite. And all the refinements
of modern civilization have not dimmed our appreciation for a place
in the vast wilderness away from it all.
Organized camping in America dates back as far as the 1860's, but
recreational camping didn't take root until the 1920's. The newly
industrialized nations changed millions of people from rural dwellers
to urban residents who had more wealth and leisure time to spend.
With the advent of the affordable automobile, middle class Americans
began to access a world beyond their neighborhoods. The first camping
club, which formed in 1919 and grew to 100,000 members by 1930, was
based on the automobile. Its members called themselves the "Tin Can
Tourists" because most of them were Model T owners. Henry Ford and
Thomas Edison were campers themselves.
As America's vast system of interstate highways developed, visits
to some of nature's most splendid secrets, such as Yosemite National
Park, became commonplace in the 1930's and 40's. As a result of this
increased mobility, facilities were established to accommodate travelers'
demands, and the practice of setting up camp became very popular.
Hence, the earliest recreational camping was largely associated with
Eventually, cities and towns began to establish municipal campgrounds.
Provisions were primitive - just a level space and an outhouse. Campers
usually packed a tent, blankets, cook set, a limited menu of food
and a milk carton to hold drinking water.
When World War II broke out, recreational activities diminished. But
soon after in the 1950's, Americans started to travel again. Motels
and roadside inns were established along the highways and privately
owned campgrounds and state park camp sites replaced municipal campgrounds.
Camping began to evolve. Rather than camping for economical reasons,
people camped because they loved being outdoors.
After some experience, campers began to form checklists of necessary
items. As the list grew larger, enterprising entrepreneurs began to
introduce more equipment. Following the war, popular camping equipment
included the surplus army tent and some newly mass-produced gear such
as stoves, lanterns and coolers. At this time, Eureka! Tent and Awning
Company in Binghamton, NY, saw the demand for a camping tent rather
than the surplus army tent.
Arthur C. Legg and his father, who opened the little shop in 1895,
initially offered wagon covers, awnings, flags, and canvas and commercial
wall tents. In the 1930's, they expanded their operations to accommodate
the increased demand for tent shelters. As recreational camping grew
in the 1950's, so did Eureka!, and the local canvas shop became a
national company. By 1956, Eureka offered a complete catalog of family
Perhaps one of the most significant breakthroughs in modern camping
tents came in 1959 when Eureka! introduced the Draw-Tite tent. This
was the first freestanding, practical exterior frame tent that could
set up in minutes. It was used on many expeditions, including a 1961
Himalayan trek led by Sir Edmund Hillary, who was the first man to
reach the summit of Mount Everest. In 1963, the first American Mount
Everest expedition team tested a nylon Draw-Tite tent and some of
Eureka's first external-framed umbrella tents.
Innovation in tent designs has continued since. Nylon, which was lighter
weight and not prone to mildew and rot, gradually replaced canvas
in the late 60's. Eureka! introduced the first double-wall tent construction
(a tent and fly), the Mt. Katahdin, which significantly reduced condensation
problems. Then in 1973, the company marketed the first self-supporting
lightweight backpacking tent, the Timberline, which has become a staple
for the Boy Scouts, and has sold more than two million to date.
In recent years, camping equipment has again been evolving, becoming
more compact, lighter weight, quicker to assemble, take down, heat
up and light up - all to accommodate the rapidly growing outdoor recreation
Part of the growth is due to a new generation of tent campers: the
25 to 44 year-olds with young children, who have not yet progressed
to RVs. More than 47 million Americans tent camp every year at some
16,000 campgrounds and wilderness campsites. Because of career and
family demands, the quick, weekend getaway is increasingly replacing
the extended vacation. Campers are combining their trips with backpacking,
hiking, cycle touring, and inline skating.
It's interesting that, as Americans' leisure time decreases, their
camping and outdoor activity time is increasing. Outdoors is a cherished
part of our lives. Soon maybe, we'll pack a two-pound, six-person
umbrella tent in a glove compartment with a solar cook set that requires
no matches. No matter how much camping evolves, what's important to
many people is that there's always a spot in the wilderness waiting
reprinted with permission of Johnson Outdoors Inc.)