Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Vacations for All

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Vacations for All

Article excerpt

"Tourism in America before World War II" by Thomas Weiss, in the Journal of Economic History (June 2004), Social Science History Institute, Bldg. 200, Rm. 3, Stanford University, Stanford, Calif. 94305-2024.

The first American tourist may have been one Dr. Alexander Hamilton (no known relation to the first U.S. Treasury secretary), who in 1744 traveled "a course of 1624 miles" from his home in Annapolis, Maryland, just to have a look around. The road from Hamilton's day to the current era of mass tourism has been, in its way, just as long and leisurely, writes Weiss, an economist at the University of Kansas, Lawrence.

Colonial Americans had little time or money for "frivolous" pursuits, but George Washington and other privileged sorts went, ostensibly for their health, to take the waters in nearby spas. By 1770, Berkeley Warm Springs in what is now West Virginia had become a popular resort for Virginia's planter aristocracy. After the Revolution spas multiplied, coming to include Hot Springs, Arkansas, and, the most famous, Saratoga Springs, in upstate New York.

In the early 19th century, Niagara Falls and other scenic wonders began drawing visitors (some of them on a fashionable tour of such places not unlike the later Grand Tour of Europe). Seaside resorts, such as Cape May. New Jersey, also grew in popularity. By about 1855, Weiss estimates, America had as mare is 300,000 tourists a year--flocking to spas 100,000), a handful of beach resorts 100,000), Niagara (80,000), New Hampshire's White Mountains (10,000), and other hot spots. …

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