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Family History by the Numbers: Summer Vacation

By Diane Haddad Premium

Some things never seem to change, and that especially feels true around the summer! Our American ancestors have been actively looking for ways to indulge in the season’s leisure time and treats since the 19th century, but why?


9 number-based facts about the history of summer vacation.
A postcard from Woodland Beach on Staten Island, New York. (New York Public Library Digital Collections)

Although many believe the history of summer vacation stems from an agricultural heritage, the main reason is not so clear-cut. According to the Washington Post article, “The myth behind summer vacation,” the calendar for school systems varied greatly from area to area. As school officials were looking to standardize a school year across the board, they noticed a large drop in attendance in the summer months. This was due, in part, to those in rural areas needing to help their families with farm duties (as has long been believed).

Here are 9 number-based facts about the history of summer vacation.
A stereograph, titled “Homeward Bound from Vacation,” depicting a crowded stagecoach circa 1887. (Library of Congress)

The other reason, however, was the mass exodus from the cities that occurred each year during June, July, and August. Hoping to escape the oppressive heat (and one would assume, the smells) that come from close-quarter living, families would flock in droves to seaside getaways, parks and mountain retreats. After much debate, a school summer session was deemed unnecessary. (Hooray!) And because so many were out and about enjoying the ambiance and cooler breezes at these locations, meals relaxed as well. Eat-and-stroll fare such as hot dogs and ice cream became wildly popular, and thus synonymous with summer.

Here are some more fun-in-the-sun facts related to the history of summer vacation, told “by the numbers”:


Length of James Madison’s 1816 summer vacation, the longest taken by a US president


Visitors to Yellowstone National Park in 1895


Years ice cream has been commercially available in the US, beginning with Baltimore milk dealer Jacob Fussell

9 number-based facts about the history of summer vacation, including ice cream!
Ready and waiting! Delivery trucks parked outside the Fussell-Young Ice Cream Co., circa 1918-1928. (Library of Congress)


Number of hot dogs sold at German immigrant Charles Feltman’s Coney Island hot dog stand in 1871


Employees of New Jersey-based American Hard Rubber Co., who skipped their vacations in 1941 to aid the war effort


Number of people Sen. Hiram Johnson guessed were in Atlantic City on Labor Day 1921

“A panoramic view [of Atlantic City] taken from Young’s Pier, showing the boardwalk, the auditorium pier, new steel pier, beach and bathing.” Recorded in 1901 by Thomas Edison, Inc. (Library of Congress)


Americans who went “autocamping” in 1921

9 number-based facts about the history of summer vacation

“Tin Can Tourists” camping at DeSoto Park, Florida in 1920. (Wikimedia Commons)


Amount Dutch immigrant Edward Bok charged Coney Island travelers (stopping in Brooklyn) for a glass of lemonade in the 1870s


Guest rooms in Put-in-Bay, Ohio‘s Hotel Victory, the nation’s largest resort hotel until 1919

A version of this article originally appeared in the July 2008 issue of Family Tree Magazine.

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