Richard Ratay: The impetus behind road trips, in so many ways, really was World War II. The draft and enlistment swept young men off their farms and out of their urban neighborhoods and sent them off to distant areas of the country to train and prepare for combat, and then they were sent off to fight in far-flung areas of the world. For many of these young men, it was their first taste of seeing the world beyond their familiar surroundings. When they came back to America, they had this travel bug, and, of course, they also were in the time of their lives where they were starting families. That’s when you had the Baby Boom. They had all these kids because of the postwar economic prosperity that America was going through at that time.
They had disposable money and time, and American factories became better than ever at producing vast numbers of automobiles because they improved their production techniques during the war to produce as many airplanes and tanks and jeeps as possible. America all of a sudden had young men who were interested in travel with new families, lots of money, lots of time, lots of cars—and that was really what spurred the travel boom.
There was also the defense aspect as well, that President Dwight Eisenhower recognized. He wanted the ability for the U.S. military to be able to move about the country freely and of course defend all its many coasts and borders. Then there was, of course, the looming threat of atomic war in the background as well, and he wanted to provide a means for urban dwellers to be able escape cities in the event of an atomic attack.