Tin Can Tourists: How a Camping Club Gave Birth to Florida’s Tourism Industry

Long before theme parks, Florida had a thriving tourism industry that revolved around tin cans. Ok, not really. Let me explain.

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In 1919, a group of camping enthusiasts gathered in Desoto Park (Tampa), Florida to found a new group dedicated to clean campgrounds and wholesome, family entertainment at these campgrounds. General friendliness and high moral values were also key tenets. The group adopted the name “Tin Can Tourists of the World”, shortened to T.C.T.

It’s important to note that in the early 20th century, Florida was a vacation destination almost exclusively for the wealthy. The advent of the automobile made it easier for the average person to visit the state and made clubs like TCT possible.

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Tourist Cottages in Pensacola, FL, 1941. The prohibition of drunks and “wild parties” is in line with TCT’s philosophy.

Before we talk about this delightful group any further, I bet you’re wondering where the name comes from. Well…no one really knows. Perhaps it refers to the car of the day, the Model T AKA the “Tin Lizzy”. Or perhaps it comes from the fact that campers often rely on tinned/canned foods. Or maybe it comes from the fact that many campers would alter their cars so as to carry large metal barrels of water on the back. Before I began digging into this topic, I assumed “tin can” referred to Airstream (and Airstream-esque) trailers. But that is definitely not the case!

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An early Airstream trailer outside of the factory. Decidedly not the origin of the TCT. Photo via DoItYourselfRV.com.

The initiation process involved inductees being taught a secret handshake, sign, and password. They would then sing “The More We Get Together” and become an official member of TCT. I told you friendliness was a key principle here.

The club typically had official meetings twice a year with the winter meetings being held in various Florida cities and the summer meetings being held in Michigan. These meetings allowed for official club business to take place and became expos for camping equipment as well as camping trailers and even mobile homes.

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Initially, residents of the cities preferred by TCT campers would have preferred they went elsewhere. Soon, though, they realized that TCT campers were no ordinary group and that this could be beneficial. The inflow of tourists led to more (and better!) roads and allowed roadside attractions and services like restaurants and visitor service centers to thrive. By the early 1930s, TCT even began to get appeals from cities that wanted to hold their conventions due to the economic benefits of having tens of thousands of people visit.

These conventions were held into the early 1980s, at which time they dwindled out. Apparently a very small (approximately half a dozen people), very dedicated group continued to meet monthly well into the 1980s.

In 1998, the club was reborn as a general vintage trailer/motor coach club. The renewed TCT held its first gathering in Camp Dearborn, Milford, Michigan. True to form, the group holds annual meetings in Florida and Michigan, although they have added regional rallies across the US. The new TCT is open to all and they still try to abide by the group’s original principles of clean campgrounds and friendliness as well as preservation and promotion of vintage trailers/RVs. The new TCT’s co-founder, Forrest Bone, says, “Basically, TCT offers its members a chance to meet and have fun with other owners who share their interest in vintage RV’s.” No word on whether or not the secret handshake is still part of the initiation process.

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Tin Can Tourist poem postcard, 1920.


Sources

Tin Can Tourism from FloridaMemory.com
Tin Can Tourist History from TinCanTourists.comPhotos from Florida Memory on Flickr unless otherwise noted.

One thought on “Tin Can Tourists: How a Camping Club Gave Birth to Florida’s Tourism Industry

  1. Pingback: Traditional Seminole Dolls: More Than Just a Toy | Site Title

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