Americans and vacationing

Few Americans took a “vacation” before World War II. Few could afford time off from work (paid vacations were not offered as an employee benefit) nor could travel very far. But after World War II, several factors made vacationing possible.

First, union contracts began to build in vacation time for members, and employers saw this as a better way to compensate their workers than raising pay.  In turn, non-unionized workers also were offered a similar benefit by their employers as a way to stave off unionization efforts.

A second factor encouraging “vacationing” was the emergence of the car culture. As Americans left the city for suburbia, they needed a car. It became very convenient to plan a longer trip by car, and gasoline was very cheap.

The third factor was closely related to the second:the construction of better roads. States had already begun improving existing roads with funds from the New Deal ( specifically the WPA),  but the Eisenhower administration saw new road construction as an economic and national security issue. With the Federal Highway Act, the federal government funded the construction of interstate highways.

As a result, the family vacation became possible for millions of Americans. They didn’t just go to visit family or to the nearest beach or lake anymore either: they headed for destinations hundreds or even thousands of miles away now!


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