Curated Collection

The middle of the 20th century in the United States is a period generally associated with prosperity and optimism.  One of the ways this positive outlook manifested itself was in an unprecedented enthusiasm for home movie making.  The Texas Archive of the Moving Image’s collections contain thousands of these home movies; among the subjects captured on these films, one of the most popular is the family vacation, especially the road trip through the American West.  Coinciding with the fervor for home movies was an increase in automobile ownership and improvements in the U.S. Highway System.  Depression-era public works projects had provided improved roads and bridges and the wartime rationing of gasoline and other materials was over. The American love affair with the automobile was on, and what better way to express it than by filming it.

Home Movies
The majority of the films in this collection date from the late-1940s through 1960s.  During this period American amateur filmmaking gained an unprecedented level of popularity and affordability.  While amateur filmmaking had begun as early as the 19th century, it wasn’t until Eastman Kodak’s introduction of 16mm safety film and the company’s mass marketing of amateur equipment in the 1920s that home movie making began to gain mainstream appeal.  Home movie technology further progressed with the creation of 8mm film, which allowed for much smaller and more portable cameras and projectors.  This development brought amateur film technology within reach of the average family, and the home movie as we know it was born.  Kodak's 1965 introduction of Super 8 film further popularized home movie making through user-friendly cartridges and a larger frame size.  

The Modern American Road Trip
The large industry that developed around home movie making from the 1920s onward coincided with increased opportunities for American travel and leisure activities.  The post-war rise of family incomes led to increased ownership of automobiles, while the establishment of a large interstate highway system allowed more Americans to take vacations via automobile.  The modern American road trip was born and quickly became a pop-culture institution, as films, books, and music began to romanticize the idea of traveling by car through America.  Everyone was doing it; even President Harry S. Truman upon his departure from the White House hit the road, driving himself and Bess on a number of trips across the country.  Perhaps most telling was that roads themselves became destinations, such as the Goodnight-Loving Trail, San Francisco’s Lombard Street, and the most iconic of them all, U.S. Route 66.

The draw of the American West was nothing new; pioneers in their Conestoga wagons heeded the call for decades before the first horseless carriages appeared.  Traveling west appealed to modern Americans as improved roads made destinations in the western states more easily accessible and affordable.  Natural landmarks such as White Sands National Monument and the Grand Canyon, as well as man-made attractions like Disneyland, and Pacific coast cities like San Francisco, all lured Americans westward.

For Texans, traveling west could be done easily on Interstates 10 and 40.  Completed in 1957, Interstate 10 provides an easy westward conduit for Texans, cutting through Houston, San Antonio, and El Paso before continuing through New Mexico, Arizona, and California.  Roughly 300 miles to the north, Interstate 40 runs through Amarillo, overlaying the old Route 66, before crossing into northern portions of New Mexico, Arizona, and into California.