Among the most arresting and well known images of the 1930s are displaced families on the road. The exodus of dust bowl farmers from the Mid-west and sharecroppers from the South was well documented by FSA photographers. The dented and overloaded Model Ts pictured struggling down Route 66 have become icons of both disappointment and determination. Yet even during the Depression the car represented more than a potential escape from hunger and misery. In the thirties the automobile was promoted and perceived as a vehicle for family togetherness. Suprisingly, the American tradition of piling the family into the car for a vacation has its roots in the thirties. Travel was one of the few luxuries for which spending did not plummet during the Depression. In 1933 Americans spent $1,102 million dollars relating to car operation during vacations. In 1929, that number was $1,040 million (Belasco, 143). Harvard economist Julius Weinberger observed how quickly spending related to auto travel rose during an otherwise slow economic recovery. Harvard Business Review that in 1935 more than half of the dollars spent on recreation were spent on vacation travel: $1,788 million out of $3,316 million. And eighty-five per cent of that travel was by car (qtd. in Belasco, 448-463).
Such roadside institutions as gas stations, restaurants and motels evolved in response to a newly "auto-mobile" nation. This site presents a history of such institutions, both in terms of their architecture and culture. This history reflects the conflicting desires of travelers for adventure and security and roadside entrepreneurs' responses to both demands. The roadscape graphically illustrates key changes in American society during the thirties, such as a growing corporate influence and a shift from regional cultures to a homogenized national culture. These forces created that particular roadside blend of commercial regionalism.
The thirties roadside affords travelers an excellent vantage point from which to view the culture of that time as well as the beginning of our present car culture.