A Short History of Camping in the U.S.

by Yvonne Johnson

We'll spin out our brief history of camping by looking at some camping "firsts."

Unquestionably, the most pivotal point in the history of camping was the invention of the S'more. We probably can't pinpoint the name of the person who first put this delectable camping treat together, but we do know that the first official recipe for S'mores was published in the Girl Scout manual. Tramping and Trailing, in 1927.

While sleeping on the ground was an age-old tradition that predated "recreational camping," it wasn't a very comfortable tradition. But the first air mattress invented in Reading, Massachusetts, in 1889 made it easier for campers to get a good night's sleep. The original design of the air mattress is still in use today.

Another first that is particularly important to PeeWee Campers is the advent of the first teardrop trailers. Teardrops became popular in the 1930's and then went out of vogue in the mid-1960's. Now there is a resurgence of the teardrop's popularity, and we feel that we have improved on the concept by building more room into the tiny camper by eliminating the severe curves. The basic idea is still the same - it sleeps two people and has a galley. Add all the standard features and options, and you have the teardrop for the 21st century.

No short history would be complete without recognizing the first American recreational camper. Unfortunately, no one really knows who that was, but we do know that the first camp ground was founded in 1861 in Washington, Connecticut. It was called Gunnery Camp, not because it featured shooting or target practice, but because it was named after its founder Frederick Gunn. Gunn started the camp to provide a 2-week wilderness experience for students at his boys' school.

The development of camp grounds over the course of the next century and a half followed this progression:

And the rest, as they say . . . is history. Today there are an unknown number of private camping facilities, over 113,000 federally managed campsites, and more than 166,000 campsites in state parks. According to the Statistics Portal (statistica.com), the number of people who went camping in the U.S. in 2016 was 45.58 million.

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