People used tents or similar sheltering structures since the dawn of time, and that is precisely why we cannot pinpoint the exact era when the first one was invented. The concept is simple. Drape whatever you can over a pole or something else, and you will get instant protection from the weather.
However, if we are to talk about the history of Camping and tents in America, we have to define two different uses: Camping as a way of surviving the harsh climate, and camping for purely recreational purposes. Recreational camping started to bloom in the 1900s, after World War II.
Fun Fact: The oldest evidence of a tent dates back to the 40,000 BC. It was located in a Russian archeological site in Moldova. Even the Old Testament mentions the use of shelters!
Luckily, camping equipment evolved through the ages, and we will take you on a short journey through the history of tents in American recreational camping.
The Tent History Timeline
1855 – The Americans realized that Native American tents are very functional and provide a great shelter. Copying the basic principle, Henry Hopkins Sibley patented a bell tent that had a large piece of fabric strung up over a pole in the center. This type of shelter was used widely in the Civil War.
1905 – A breakthrough in camping equipment made recreational camping available for everyone who doesn’t want to compromise on comfort. Singlehandedly, William Coffin Coleman discovered a new lamp that burned gasoline and emitted steady white light that was much safer than regular candles. It is how the Coleman Company came to life. And that company is still going strong, offering the most modern recreational camping equipment.
1906 – Thomas Hiram Holding is considered to be the father of modern camping. In 1906, he published “The Camper’s Handbook,” a guide that first entertained the notion of camping for recreational purposes. In it, he explains how camping brings you closer to nature, extends your lifespan due to the physical activity, and most importantly, makes people self-reliant. And he wasn’t wrong!
1911 – An in-depth guide about making ten different types of tents published in 1911. It is called the Boy Scout Handbook and provided a variety of camping information about tent pitching.
1945 – This was the year when Americans felt it was high time to go back to their roots and nature. Sales of tents and campers increased, and many people chose to spend their leisure time outdoors. It was due to the war ending, and purchasing power restored for many people. Luckily, they decided to go on a camping equipment shopping spree.
1959 – Eureka, a camping gear company, introduced the first-ever self-standing tent. This gave birth to a whole new era of tent development. Eureka indeed!
1970 – While other companies tried to copy Eureka’s previous patent, they went ahead and created a yet another industry shift. Up until then, tents were bulky, heavy, and hard to store and transport. But sometime in the 1970s, they advertised a new Timberline tent that fit in a backpack and didn’t weigh a ton. Timberline tents were purchased 1 million times in the next ten years.
1990 – There are many truck drivers in America, and trucks are perfect for harsher climates and rough roads. Especially if we are talking about the great outdoors, mountain areas and camping areas. Napier Enterprises saw the connection between the love of camping and truck drivers, so they introduced the first truck tent that fits perfectly on the back of the pickup.
2009 – 2011 – As of 2009, there were 3.2 million people in America who prefer tents over other luxurious camping experiences, and that number persisted throughout 2011.
2016 – The modern era brings impressive new tent designs and even sturdier and lighter weight equipment. Some of the concepts introduced to the public were solar-powered tents, kayak tents, tents intended for cyclists, and even those that can withstand howling winds and arctic climate.
This short recap of the recreational camping history can serve as a reminder of how far we have come from tepees to modern age tents and camping equipment. No matter which one you choose, the result is the same – reconnecting with nature and finding peace in the wilderness.