“This is my first train trip you know….Which car do the spies usually ride in?”
Lucy, “I Love Lucy”, Episode 132 “The Great Train Robbery”
Technology and travel are an intertwining relationship that has dramatically altered the interaction and movements of people and cultures. If you look at today’s travel, it is interesting to note that, minus the stagecoach, all the major types of transportation from the past 150 years are still in active use…yet their moment in the sun has perhaps passed them by. But what would it have been like to have traveled during the Golden Age of let’s say the railroad, or the airplane? Join me as we find out together!
To start our journey, we are going to take a ride back to the early 1800’s to learn about the stagecoach….
When I think of stagecoaches, I imagine those of the American Wild West, however, stagecoaches were the main form of travel for anyone who needed to cross long distances before the mass buildup of railways. The most common stagecoach was built by the Downing Company in 1827 and was called the Concord Stagecoach. This little beauty featured a wonderful invention of leather straps holding the coach versus metal springs. How did this improve travel?….Well, it swung versus jostling the passengers as they traveled over those bumpy state roads. Much desired when it would take days to cross a hundred miles.
Hard to imagine eight people stuffed in that coach…
Need a break? “Swing” stations, as they were called, were set up every 12 miles and allowed the cooped up occupants a brief ten minute stretch to use the outhouse or grab a drink. “Home” stations, the country’s first major rest areas, were built 50 miles apart and often offered a place to sleep as well as a warm meal for the weary travelers. Yet unlike more recent modes of travel, stagecoach etiquette was quite strict with a no smoking, no drinking, and definitely no-resting-of-one’s-head-on-a-fellow-passenger rule! From 1830’s to the late 1860’s, the stagecoach was the way to travel.
But with the growth of the railroad and train stations, travelers began to opt for the more comfortable, safer, and reliable method of steam or coal travel. Think about all those period movies you have seen where the train gently chugs up to the platform, giving it’s customary whistle and hum, as passengers dot on and off picking up trunks, meeting friends, or desperately trying to catch a loved one from making a terrible mistake…an often idyllic scene Whether the late 1880’s or the 1950’s, the passengers are well-dressed, well-manicured, and well-mannered, as they politely make their way to their seat, their berth, or the dining car. With the popularity of train travel reaching it’s height around the turn of the century, designers began creating cars that reflected the ornate tastes of their Edwardian customers, all while promising a quick and efficient E.T.A.
Although these pictures may be black and white, imagine the rich colored tapestries, gold trim, and rich mahogany paneling these late 1800’s train cars would boast.
Yet by the 1920’s and 30’s as the car and the airplane began to emerge on the travel scene, the railroads began to feel the loss as their upper-class patrons began migrating off. In a last ditch effort, the 1950’s saw a brief climax as the Pullman Palace Car Company created lovely sleeper cars.
This little train suite is adorable!
Yet as the Golden Age of the train seemed to come to a close…others were in full swing.
As soon as Henry Ford’s Model T rolled off the assembly line, the age of the automobile began. What was once seen as a silly modern contraption called the “horseless carriage”, the car began to rapidly alter not only the areas in which many lived, but society itself.
With more and more families purchasing cars, the notion of tourism took shape. It became very popular to go on long Sunday drives, visit famous national landmarks, or head to a warmer location during the colder winter months. As routes were built across the landscape, and small towns became bustling tourist “hot spots”, the car allowed even the most smallest of budgets access to a more luxurious life, even if it was only for a few days.
Hmmm…I wonder where they are headed?
But hold on modern travelers…another advancement is on the horizon….
From the time when Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart helped build commercial air flights in America, air travel became, and has remained, the fastest and most common form of international travel.
By the 1930’s, Pan American airlines began to fly upper class passengers across the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, giving these individuals access to diverse locations in record time. Despite the high risk of death (risk of airplane failure was dramatically higher during the 1930’s-1960’s), tourists began to adapt and enjoy the newly termed “jet-set” lifestyle, where weekend vacations came in vogue.
Shortest time to sunshine…and my toes in the sand! 🙂
Catering to a richer population during the 1950’s-1960’s, flying by plane was much more expensive than today’s ticket prices, but you would, of course, receive more with each purchase. More leg space, cushier seats, unlimited alcohol, a no smoking ban, and in some cases, a flight attendant for every 5 people, were just a few of the “extras” flyers could enjoy. One added bonus: each passenger would be handed a postcard as they entered the plane showing the proposed menu, along with an “activity” to keep one occupied during the long flight.
Now that is a spread!
Flying is still the most common form of international travel, yet I feel as though some of the “sparkle” has gone out of it’s appeal. Perhaps the reality of the world in which we live has played a larger impact on it or perhaps the “novelty” of air flight has worn off….yet there is one last mode of travel that has seen itself through all of the above technologies and stayed relevant: the ocean liner.
Long used as the most common way to travel from continent to continent, ocean travel has been used for exploration, invasion, and perhaps more recently, vacations. With ocean liner tycoons catering to the upper crust following the 1890’s, these large ships began to be viewed as floating hotels, as well as symbols of national pride.
Imagine being on the bow as this large ship steamed into port…
Traveling on these new floating islands secured your sign of social stature and allowed you to maintain a high standard of living without being cramped up next to a fellow passenger. Boasting smoking rooms, drawing rooms, elegant tea rooms and large suites, traveling by water maintained popularity even through the rise of the airplane. With owners wishing to maintain a healthy bottom line and compete against the speed of air travel, their companies promised that “You may arrive faster on an airplane, but you arrive happier on an ocean liner.”
I would have to say that might just be true. 😉
Even though the supposed “golden age” of many of these methods have come to an end, it is still fascinating to see how our parents, grandparents, or even great-grandparents found their way to more exotic places.
1920-30.com – 1920’s Travel
americanhistory.si.edu “On the Water”
Sezyrn, Erkan, Medat, Yolal. “Golden Age of Mass Tourism; Its History and Development”
xroads.virginia.edu “The Road to Autopia and the Spatial Transformation of American Culture”