Sunday, November 8, 2015

The U.S. Travel Bureau, FDR's "Travel America Year," and the right to adequate recreation

(WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

On July 19, 1940, President Roosevelt signed legislation creating the U.S. Travel Bureau. The office actually had its origin in 1937 as the "Tourism Bureau," an office created for the National Park Service by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes. But the legislation signed by FDR made the Travel Bureau a more firm fixture within the Department of the Interior, and thus more able to receive regular funding. The Travel Bureau's mission was to promote recreational travel within the United States, by both citizens and foreign tourists.

Roosevelt also declared 1940 to be the "Travel America Year." And he certainly had been making travel more pleasant in America - with the CCC creating or improving hundreds of parks and the WPA creating or improving hundreds of airports, many thousands of bridges, and 650,000 miles of roadway.

Recreation was always important to Roosevelt; so much so, that in 1944, during his Second Bill of Rights speech, he advocated for the right of all Americans to earn enough money for adequate recreation. Today, of course, America is being overtaken by free market fanatics who would declare such a right to be "government overreach" or "the nanny state" or "communism!" To the Free Marketeers, one must constantly work, work, work, and try to curry favor with billionaire owners & investors. Vacation? Recreation?? Bah humbug, that's socialist European stuff! (Of course, that mentality could be one of the reasons America has such high rates of obesity, diabetes, heart problems, stress, and suicide.)

The U.S. Travel Bureau appears to have been terminated sometime during fiscal year 1943, a victim of the war. I'm not sure if it was later revived, but there were subsequent tourism and travel agencies in the federal government, and at least one seems to have lasted into the mid-1990s. Ironically, in January 2012, President Obama called for "a national strategy to promote domestic and international travel opportunities throughout the United States." Hmm... maybe we should bring back the U.S. Travel Bureau?

Sources: (1) Annual Reports of the Secretary of the Interior, fiscal years 1937 through 1943. (2) Perry H. Merrill, "Roosevelt's Forest Amy: A History of the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942," 1981. (3) Federal Works Agency, "Final Report on the WPA Program, 1935-1943," 1946. 

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