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Setting the Stage

Few inventions have had as great and as widespread an impact as the automobile. By 1920, more than 300 cities had roadside camping facilities for motorists and more than one million people used them. Streets and highways were quickly built or modernized and a uniform numbering system for highways was introduced in 1925; by 1930 nearly 27 million cars were registered. The production, sale, repair, and servicing of cars provided work for millions. The Great Depression struck the tourist trade a great blow. Expenditures for hotels, restaurants, vacation clothing, and travel supplies fell from $872 million in 1929 to $444 million in 1932. Clearly, the people who would stay in business during tough times would be those who could appeal to the smaller number of tourists on the road.

By the time prosperity returned, roadside advertising had become a normal operating cost for businesses. Fanciful buildings, signs, and colossal sculptures were a colorful feature of highway culture and commerce during the 1920s and 30s. Highly visible and usually humorous, these "roadside attractions" were designed to catch the eye of the passing motorist and entice potential customers. All in all, the 1920s and—in spite of the Great Depression—the 1930s literally changed the American landscape.




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