The middle of the twentieth century in the United States is a period generally associated with prosperity and optimism. One of the ways this positive outlook manifested itself was in an unprecedented enthusiasm for home movie making. The Texas Archive of the Moving Image’s collections contain thousands of these home movies; among the subjects captured on these films, one of the most popular is the family vacation, especially the road trip through the American West. Coinciding with the fervor for home movies was an increase in automobile ownership and improvements in the U.S. Highway System. Depression-era public works projects had provided improved roads and bridges, and the wartime rationing of gasoline and other materials was over. The American love affair with the automobile was on, and what better way to express it than by filming it?
The majority of the films in this collection date from the late-1940s through 1960s. During this period, American amateur filmmaking gained an unprecedented level of popularity and affordability. While amateur filmmaking had begun as early as the nineteenth century, it wasn’t until Eastman Kodak’s introduction of 16mm safety film and the company’s mass marketing of amateur equipment in the 1920s that home movie making began to gain mainstream appeal. Home movie technology further progressed with the creation of 8mm film, which allowed for much smaller and more portable cameras and projectors. This development brought amateur film technology within reach of the average family, and the home movie as we know it was born. Kodak's 1965 introduction of Super 8 film further popularized home movie making through user-friendly cartridges and a larger frame size.
The Modern American Road Trip
The large industry that developed around home movie making from the 1920s onward coincided with increased opportunities for American travel and leisure activities. The post-war rise of family incomes led to increased ownership of automobiles, while the establishment of a large interstate highway system allowed more Americans to take vacations via automobile. The modern American road trip was born and quickly became a pop-culture institution, as films, books, and music began to romanticize the idea of traveling by car through America. Everyone was doing it; even President Harry S. Truman hit the road upon his departure from the White House, driving himself and Bess on a number of trips across the country. Perhaps most telling was that roads themselves became destinations, such as the Goodnight-Loving Trail, San Francisco’s Lombard Street, and, the most iconic of them all, U.S. Route 66.
The draw of the American West was nothing new; pioneers in their Conestoga wagons heeded the call for decades before the first horseless carriages appeared. Traveling west appealed to modern Americans as improved roads made destinations in the western states more easily accessible and affordable. Natural landmarks such as White Sands National Monument and the Grand Canyon, as well as man-made attractions like Disneyland and Pacific coast cities like San Francisco, all lured Americans westward.
For Texans, traveling west could be done easily on Interstates 10 and 40. Completed in 1957, Interstate 10 provides an easy westward conduit for Texans, cutting through Houston, San Antonio, and El Paso before continuing through New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Roughly 300 miles to the north, Interstate 40 runs through Amarillo, overlaying the old Route 66, before crossing into northern portions of New Mexico, Arizona, and California.
About this Collection
The films in this collection present a sampling of destinations and attractions, chosen for their popularity as American travel spots as evinced by their significant coverage in multiple home movie collections. Each film offers a unique angle of a travel destination as defined by what is captured, informing us what the individual families found significant about the location. At the same time, the repetition of subject matter across so many collections—rolling down sand dunes, Disneyland’s spinning teacups, the Golden Gate Bridge—demonstrates the commonality of what was considered culturally significant. Home movies, due to their amateur or unskilled creators and design for private home viewing, are often made up of long shots of family activity and shaky camera work. Therefore, these films also were selected for their adequate production quality, particularly their camera-focus on the destination itself, as well as the family’s interaction with the location.
Texans wanting to experience the Old West only had to venture as far as the western regions of their own state. The Big Bend and El Paso areas provided rugged desert scenery and historic military sites as well as easy access to Mexico. These sites were accessible via Interstate 10 and were often stops on the way to final destinations further west.
The Ernest M. Hunt Family Film Collection, no. 1 - El Paso Trip, 1939
The Marcellus Hartman Collection, no. 26 - Trip to West Texas, 1956
The Hackney Family Collection, no. 1 - Trip to West Texas
The Hackney Family Collection, no. 2 - Trip to West Texas
The Desert Southwest - New Mexico and Arizona
Traveling west out of Texas on Interstate 10 or 40, the next states a traveler encounters are New Mexico and Arizona, both of which boast stunning if stark desert scenery and natural attractions. When traveling in Arizona, Texans filmed desert scenery on their way to the Grand Canyon, Carlsbad, or Scottsdale. In New Mexico, White Sands National Monument, containing the world’s largest gypsum dune fields, is both a scenic tourist destination and a place for recreational fun. It is also one of the most filmed locations in TAMI’s collection of home movie travel films, appearing with higher frequency than more famous sites such as the Grand Canyon or the Alamo.
The Horak Family Collection, no. 2 - White Sands National Monument
Siegel Family, no. 1 - Road Trip to White Sands National Monument
The Alton Abbot Family Collection, no. 3 - Desert Road Trip
The Hackney Family Collection, no. 3 - Road Trip to White Sands, 1964
J.T. Murphy Family, Carlsbad Trip 1959
Bell Family, 1958 Arizona
The J.R. Nelson, Jr. Collection, no. 10 - American West Road Trip, Carlsbad Caverns and Grand Canyon
The Kennedy Family Collection, no. 1 - Trip to Arizona, 1968
The Mountains - Colorado and Nevada
Westward-bound Texans often routed themselves through Colorado and Nevada. In Colorado, they found an escape from the Texas heat as they camped, fished, and rode horses against the backdrop of the Rocky Mountains. Nevada, on the other hand, presented them with larger-than-life examples of human achievement, namely the Hoover Dam and the Las Vegas strip.
Col. Homer Garrison’s Home Movie Reel
The Palin Bree Collection, no. 6 - Road Trip Through the American West
The George and Laura Murphy Collection, no. 1 - Trip to Colorado, 1953
The Alton Abbot Family Collection, no. 6 - Colorado Pack Trip, 1948
California - Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm, and San Francisco
While California boasts a number of spectacular natural landmarks such as the Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks, what commonly appears in home movie footage are its man-made attractions. Especially popular with Texans were the amusements found at Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm, and San Francisco's neighborhoods and architecture.
Siegel Family, no. 6 - Trip to California, 1969
Cory Welch Family Films, no. 1 - Trip to California, 1978
The John Mitchell Collection, no. 3 - Vacation to the American West, 1963
The Davis Family Collection, no. 1 - Vacation in San Francisco
The John Field Collection, no. 6 - Scenes of San Francisco
The Davis Family Collection, no. 9 - Vacation in San Francisco