Four Vagabonds, Tin Can Tourists, and the Great American Road Trip

100 years of motor camper history inspired us to build RV SUPPLY Co.

The Four Vagabonds

In 1919, the “Four Vagabonds”, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, James Burroughs, and Harvey Firestone, adventured out with a 50 vehicle caravan on their annual summer camping trip. 

Two of the vehicles were designed by Ford himself, including a kitchen camping car and a touring car on a truck chassis with storage for tents, cots, chairs, etc.

Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, James Burroughs, Harvey Firestone at campsite
Image from Henry

They continued their yearly motor travels for 9 years (starting in 1915) bringing national attention to the idea of trailblazing across the country.

1919 caravan of vehicles on dirt road
from the four vagabonds
Image from Henry

Tin Can Tourists

At the same time, in 1919, the Tin Can Tourists were founded with a mission: unite all auto campers, establish friendships, provide supplies, maintain clean camps and provide wholesome fun to all auto campers.  

Image of Tin Can Tourist Camp in 1942 full of RVs
Tin Can Tourist Camp 1942

The Tin Can Tourist name comes from early members using camp stoves to heat their meals in tin cans along the side of the road.

In those days, drivers were more apt to encounter roads to “nowhere” rather than the open road. Few highways were paved. Dirt roads could be muddy quagmires and many roads could be passed faster on foot.

One auto camper explained “when we left New York for Chicago, we were motorists. When we left Chicago for California, we were pioneers.”

The Great American Road Trip

And finally, on July 7, 1919, a military convoy of 81 vehicles set out on the “great American road trip.” On a mission to cross the country from Washington D.C. to San Francisco, the trip was a PR stunt to test the military motor corp and highlight the poor state of American roads.

Dwight Eisenhower volunteered to join the caravan looking for a “genuine adventure”. In all, the journey traversed 3,242 miles through 11 states in 62 days, averaging 52 miles per day.

1919 Great American Road trip image of military convoy with Dwight Eisenhower carrying supplies
Image from

Later, while in command during World War II, Eisenhower saw how valuable the autobahn (motorway system) was to Nazi-Germany. Soldiers were able to mobilize quickly to fight on multiple fronts.

As President, remembering the cross-country trek, and influenced by his experience in Germany, Eisenhower focused his attention on road building and the creation of the American Interstate Highway System.

The Evolution of the Interstate
Click the image to open the interactive (via Geotab).

And here we are.

It’s 2019, 100 years since the unofficial birth of the RV adventure.

Vehicles have become more affordable and roads now connect the National Parks and everything in between. Setting out on the open road is easier than ever before.

Dreamers, inventors, adventurers, and explorers have applied their own ingenuity designing equipment and vehicles that make the journey safer and more comfortable.

You can now have every modern convenience of home, on the road…or not.

The new pioneers are looking to find themselves in unexplored places that are often times off-road and off the grid.

The possibilities are endless.

And that’s why RV SUPPLY Co was born.

The RV industry has something for every enthusiast, but the choices are overwhelming.

In our modern world where everything is connected, it takes effort just to get away.

We don’t want you to waste time and effort in your pursuit.

We want you to explore and adventure. Expand all of our boundaries – search for uncharted destinations.

Leave the research to us.

We are here living, and learning everything we can about travel, adventure, and the best gear to get you there.

Illustration of the modern 4 vagabonds - founders of RV SupplyCo
Four Vagabonds 2019

Sometimes, we even find ourselves on a road to “nowhere”.

A car on a highway in Iceland with a large mountain in the background