American tourism had begun with annual local migrations to mountain and seashore summer homes; longer trips to such fashionable spas as Saratoga Springs, N.Y., White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., and Hot Springs, Ark; and leisurely trips up and down the Mississippi and Ohio rivers on the floating hotels known as paddlewheel steamers.
The development of the sleeping car by George M. Pullman in the 1860s opened the way to comfortable, even palatial, long-distance travel and did much to popularize the idea of cross-country trips and interest in North America’s growing number of national parks and reserves.
At the same time, the first-class accommodations offered by more than a dozen competing Trans-Atlantic Steamship Companies provided wealthy Americans with a sybaritic experience that made travelling as enjoyable as arriving.
Enthusiasm for this luxury trade, unhampered even by the sinking of the supposedly unsinkable Titanic on its maiden voyage in 1912, did not peak until the 1920s, when more than 140 luxury liners regularly plied the Atlantic; simultaneously, Americans had at their daily disposal about 20,000 scheduled trains.
Meanwhile, the development of an American automobile industry based on mass production methods and relatively low costs, and the road system this inspired, opened tourism to the middle classes for the first time.
The widespread ownership of cars revolutionized resort travel by making it possible to situate hotel and recreational sites far from both cities and railroad stations. On the other hand, the proliferation of automobiles and road travel beginning in the 1920s signaled the steady decline of passenger-train service and the bankruptcy of many of the country’s remaining railroads by the 1960s. The luxury liner as a means of transport would also succumb, in its turn, to the relentless march of technology.