Past Forward

Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Celebrating and Reflecting on Innovations in Travel

February 16, 2023

National Innovation Day was this week, and we hope people are taking time to recognize and appreciate the innovations all around them. At The Henry Ford, we celebrate innovation every day of the year, sharing our collection of more than 26 million artifacts and our stories of innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs who have changed our world and the ways we experience it.

Innovation has changed the way people from all over the world explore and interact with their surroundings. For example, the process of getting outside and getting on the road is much different than it used to be. We once navigated the country’s roadways with paper maps and tour books. In the 21st century, we now plan our routes and identify interesting stops along the way using GPS navigation systems and crowdsourced mobile apps.

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The classic paper TripTiks — AAA's iconic planning guides that provided destination directions, points of interest, and lists of services and accommodations — are now available to travelers via an app directly through their phones.

TripTik Map for Detroit, Michigan to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 1951-1952

TripTik Map for Detroit, Michigan, to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 1951-1952 / THF205179

However, it wasn’t always easy to traverse our nation’s roadways, and it wasn’t car owners who first demanded better roads — it was bicycle riders. Organizations like AAA were early supporters and promoters of the Good Roads Movement, founded by the League of American Wheelmen, a cyclist group that lobbied for better roads. By 1915, travelers saw improved roadways through cities, across rural spaces and even into national parks. By this time, many motorists were trekking across the country to visit America’s oldest national park, Yellowstone. In response to the demand, the park added auto campgrounds to ensure safety, order and control. In 1920 alone, 5,000 cars flooded Yellowstone. The postcard below, from the collections of The Henry Ford, shows one of the public autocamps built to accommodate increased visitation.

TripTik Map for Detroit, Michigan to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 1951-1952

Public Automobile Camp in Yellowstone Park, circa 1920 / THF128250

Today, Yellowstone offers 12 campgrounds with over 2,000 established campsites, each of which must be reserved prior to use, far in advance. It’s a much different experience for modern travelers than it was for their 1920s counterparts! For those who prefer backcountry camping, Yellowstone now offers 300 backcountry campsites, also available by reservation. More than a century after those first autocamps were built, Yellowstone now sees more than 2 million visitors each year.

But innovation and progress are constant and require collaboration, new ideas, and new ways of thinking. To gain additional insight on travel trends and innovations, we reached out to our friends at AAA who, since 1902, have worked to improve automobile travel and develop new tools we can use to explore the American road.

"American Motorist," August 1909

"American Motorist," August 1909 / THF202277

AAA – Auto Club Group’s Hatch Garage Labs Innovation Team is always thinking about the future of automotive travel. To identify the needs of the next generation of automotive travelers, they leverage the skills and experiences of students in their Innovative Internship program. This is not your average internship. Three semesters a year, students in this program are challenged to design and develop new products and services, helping to create the future of the travel experience. One innovation, created by more than 40 program interns, is XPWOW! It's a mobile app described as a “short video social platform for road trips” that brings users together to share trending travel locations, photos, video feeds, and intel on hot spots and activities through user tags. "We hope it will help build a community of amazing people and outdoor activities — just people helping other people stay active and connected,” said Jeff Laskowski, director of technology and innovation at the Auto Club Group.

XPWOW! app Promotional Materials from AAA

Promotional images for the XPWOW! app provided to The Henry Ford by Ericka Capers, supervisor of innovation at the Auto Club Group

Our world is changing every day, and even just one innovation has the power to improve the way we travel, how we share our experiences and the ease at which we can connect with others. Whether you’re driving to work, hiking a mountain or camping with friends, we hope that you're celebrating National Innovation Day and appreciating all the innovations along your life’s journey.

Matt Anderson is the curator of transportation at The Henry Ford. Jeff Laskowski is the director of technology and Innovation at the Auto Club Group. The Auto Club Group (ACG) is the second-largest AAA club in North America with more than 13 million members across 14 U.S. states, the province of Quebec and two U.S. territories.