Rare Book Monthly

Articles - May - 2009 Issue

Collecting Travels and Voyages in the Modern Era

Holiday.1.1

Travels & Voyages in the 20th Century


By Bruce McKinney

In the aftermath of World War II a glow descended upon America. The nation was victorious and all things seemed possible. The post-depression lethargy that gripped America in the 1930s and anxious discipline that characterized the country during the Second World War were now slipping into the past tense. With the coming of peace, for the first time in two decades, America was poised for renewed prosperity. For four years the government had employed a war-time command economy to create jobs and enforce savings by limiting production to necessary goods. With constraints now lifting fundamental shifts in the American social contract, a surge in college education, and a new era in consumption would soon send America and much of the world careening into an upward spiral of rising expectations and possibilities. Among the emissaries of change were new magazines introduced to satisfy what was becoming consumer demand. One of those new publications was Holiday whose life would precisely span the transformation of America from post-war [1946] to post-innocence [1971].

I write about this because a few years ago I purchased the extensive bound magazine holdings of a library in Michigan. Included was a uniformly bound complete run of Holiday. In time I found in it the world I knew growing up, the early post-war years followed by the serious 1950's and the increasingly relaxed sixties culminating with its final volumes in the early 1970s. If today we live in the moment we then lived in the era and there was time to see the changes, many of them reflected in print.

Clifton Fadiman, writing the introduction to "Ten Years of Holiday" in 1956 describes Holiday as "a magazine of civilized entertainment" and suggests that those first ten years saw the transformation of a world limited by wheels to one now taken to wing. It was much more than that but it wasn't yet clear that this twenty-five year run would span a cultural revolution, first of rising expectations for political and economic equality of every category of American, by race, religion and ethnic background and in time also lead into the revolution of social expectations we are living through today. We look back on the 1950's as a cultural backwater. In fact they were the breeding ground.

It would be easy to believe that retrospective consideration is leading me to see more in these magazines than is there. But to the contrary, I think that the more I look the more I see. The advertising is particularly interesting. Most of the advertisers have disappeared. The women are formal. The Evan Case Company bought a half page in color to advertise lighters and the person smoking is a woman. Kohinoor advertises "America's first rayon blend" that doesn't need to be dry cleaned. Various companies offer fishing gear in a national magazine, several railroads encourage personal travel. There are avertisements for car radios and batteries, cameras that look positively complex compared to today's. There's an article on "radar" as a way to make air travel safer and also a full page cut-away of the Lockheed Constellation. All this in its first four months of publication in 1946.

Twenty years later [1966] the magazine is slick, the paper that is. There is some good advice but it's too late now to take it. Jackson Pollock and Jasper Johns are celebrated. Who knew the prices of their paintings would orbit the very world Holiday was encouraging its readers to explore. The travel orientation is still Europe with a bit of South Seas cruising. Even then, twenty-five years after Pearl Harbor, the world of Holiday is still only half a globe. Who knew the world's great travelers were growing up in Asia?

Rare Book Monthly

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