Recreational camping began in the 19th century as city bound people sought escape from the rush of daily life.
They traveled to wooded areas, lakes, and hot springs seeking relaxation and rejuvenation. In the early 20th century, motor camping became popular due to improved automobiles and roads; and the newsreel and newspaper accounts of the camping adventures of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison.
By the 1950s, the postwar economy had boomed, launching a record number of Americans into the middle class. This created a sudden surplus of disposable income and leisure time wherein Americans flocked to campgrounds and resorts for family vacations in far greater numbers than ever before.
Camping describes a range of activities. To many it is a simple way of connecting with nature while vacationing.
It is a way to spend time in a relaxed atmosphere, away from city noise and modern amenities.
To others it is a way to recapture the past and reconnect with the simpler way of living.
One person who camped in many remote areas of the Sierra Nevada Mountains searching for the past was Wendell Robie.
He was a prominent Auburn businessman and an avid outdoorsman. He admired mountain men such as Caleb Greenwood and Jedediah Smith who traversed the mountains in the early to mid 19th century. In 1931, Wendell, along with five other men, journeyed from Auburn to Lake Tahoe on horseback to re-establish and mark portions of the Emigrant Trail that had been lost.
They explored and camped in the vast wilderness of the Sierra Nevada retracing the steps miners once took during the Gold Rush. The trail they re-discovered later became known as the Western States Heritage Trail.
Most of the artifacts on display in this exhibit, including the hunting and fishing licenses below, belonged to Wendell Robie and date between 1930 and 1950.
Even though camping equipment changed dramatically over the years, becoming more lightweight and compact, balancing the needs with what you can carry has been an issue for campers in the past as well as today.
Some made their own gear. The camp stove below, for example, was made by Benjamin H. Johnson in 1921 in North Dakota, for his family’s journey to California.
We’d like to hear about your camping adventure. While this exhibit was up, we had a log book for people to record a few notes about their last camping experience. Feel free to do the same in our comments section.