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How “tin can tourists” helped drive Michigan to establish a state parks system


In the early 1900s, not long after the invention of the automobile, people began hitching trailers to their bumpers for road trips around the country. 

Historian and blogger Mickey Lyons and the Michigan History Center’s Rachel Clark join Stateside to talk about the history of camper trailers, and how it's tied to the development of Michigan's state parks system. 

When the camper trailer was first being developed, they were handcrafted in a very ‘do-it-yourself’ manner. Camping in a trailer began to take off in popularity, and in 1919, the Tin Can Tourists club was founded.

"This is the days before motels. They got called the "tin can tourists" because they ate out of tin cans," explains Lyons. 

The club was composed of mostly middle-class empty nesters with some time on their hands. It was based in Florida, but many in the club made the two week long trek to Michigan in the summer. 

By the 1930s, commercially built campers were being produced and sold for a pretty penny. 

While the trailer camper gained in popularity, Michigan was also expanding its state parks system. After World War I, Michigan went from having just two state parks in 1919 to having 21 just two years later, opening up more of the state for camping enthusiasts. 

Learn more about how the camper trailer and Michigan's state parks developed hand-in-hand in the slideshow above. 

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Katie Raymond. 

This segment is produced in partnership with theMichigan History Center.

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