Travel Back in Time With Vintage U.S. Vacation Destination Photographs

Beinecke Library // Public Domain
Beinecke Library // Public Domain / Beinecke Library // Public Domain

Americans weren’t big on vacations until around the middle of the 19th century, when doctors and ministers started reassuring people that it was OK to take a break from the Puritan work ethic sometimes (the new railroads helped, too). Americans still don’t take as many vacation days as other people in the developed world—but we sure like to dream about it.

In the interest of nostalgia-tinted vacation fantasies, Messy Nessy Chic recently highlighted an archive of 19th and early 20th century American vacation destination photographs held at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The images—of rivers in Florida, fountains in New Orleans, grapefruits in California—were taken by Detroit Photographic, which criss-crossed the country (and beyond) back then taking photos for use on postcards. According to the Beinecke, the company had the exclusive rights to the Swiss color photolithography Photochrom process, which helped them print color postcards and other products in large numbers. The company later changed its name to the Detroit Publishing Company and closed its doors for good in 1932.

The Library of Congress holds a sizeable number of their images—many of which have been digitized—while you can see an assortment of the postcards themselves on the New York Public Library’s digital collections site. Many of the NYPL’s postcard images have writing on them, proving—as if we had any doubt—that “wish you were here” is not a new sentiment. 

Coney Island

Old Faithful Inn, Yosemite

Green Bay, Wisconsin

Circular Bridge, Mt. Lowe Railway, California

Balanced Rock, Garden of the Gods, Colorado

New Orleans courtyard

Old Oak at Tampa Bay Hotel

Sunset from the Battery, NYC

Atlantic City

Hotel DeSoto, Savannah, Georgia via NYPL Digital Collections // Public Domain

Palmettoes, Ormond, Florida via NYPL Digital Collections // Public Domain

Seal rocks on Catalina Island, California via NYPL Digital Collections // Public Domain

All images via the Beinecke Library Detroit Photographic Company archive // Public Domain, except where noted.[h/t Messy Nessy Chic]