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Charles Todd at the recording machine

[Detail] Charles Todd at the recording machine

Primary Source Set C: Americans and the Automobile

Yankee Innkeeper

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NOTE: This is an excerpt. The full text version of Yankee Innkeeper is in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940.

... {excerpt begins}

Mr. Robert E. Gould, for twenty-three years host of the Newport House, Newport, N. H.

It can't be denied that the hotel business has been changed a lot by automobiles, by the tourist rooms and the cabins following in their smoke and fishing for their business. They've got a lot of it, no doubt ... scattered it around in little pieces.

Some kinds of business, on which hotels used to depend, have almost gone ... permanently, probably. But hotel men aren't taking the threat of this competion lying down; they're hunting new ways of making hotels pay, and finding them. Some of these ways are stop-gaps, to bridge us over this period of low income. For we expect ... yes, that's the word..that, after people have bad their fling with cabins and their like, they will be coming back to hotels again.

Cabins are a new thing. They're one of the `anythings' that the American public will try ... once. Already there are many people who tell me they don't like them after they have tried them. They say that in these tourist rooms and cabins they miss the little conveniences-the various gadgets- which hotels provide. They miss the cozy little nooks, with desks, for writing letters, or sending post cards, or places for doing a lot of things ... travellers ... travelers .... like to do. They're more for hotels than ever.

They like the sociability of the lobby, the dining room, the chance to make new acquaintances. They like the feel of the crowd around them. I suppose there are some who like to sleep out in the woods; whose tastes are satisfied by the presence of the cold, fresh dew, and the little woods-pussies with white backs.

... Take so simple a thing as hot water. People like plenty of hot water...running from a tap in their rooms, not a measly cupful or two ... but hot water to luxuriate in. The item of hot water is important to the travelling public ... right where and when you want it. Ask the cabin keepers about hot water ... they can't supply it ... not as people prefer it.

If we hotel men can stick out this period of people fooling around with cabins, we're going to get a lot of our old trade back.

But there's one class of our old trade we'll never get back ... one that hotels depended on considerably ... the old-time drummer ... salesman, to you. Some hotels depended on it more than others, but it was important everywhere.

The Hotel Moody, over at Claremont ... probably seventy per cent of their trade was of that class. Some hotels had even more perhaps as high as ninety per cent.... Here at Newport drummers represented about ... thirty per cent of our business; seventy per cent was non-commercial---tourists, and visitors for various purposes. But that thirty per cent was important.

Drummers used to come out from the commercial houses in Boston, New York, even from more distant points. They came by train, and lived in the hotels while on the road. They used to stay out the entire week, going in home, Friday or Saturday. If they came from far points they might be out for weeks ... even months.

But since they have taken to automobiles some go back and forth every night ... home. They don't come in from distant places any more. It is the practice of the commercial houses to locate a representative near enough their trade to go back and forth every day. The swifter automobiles are made, and the smoother and straighter the roads, the farther a salesman can reach out, the fewer salesmen are required to cover the territory.

Questions:

  • How does Robert Gould think the automobile affected hotels?
  • What did Robert predict for the future of hotels? Based on what you know, was his prediction accurate or inaccurate? What other transportation technologies have affected hotels since the 1930s?
  • According to Robert, what occupation was especially affected by automobiles? Besides cutting into hotels' business, how would the change in this occupation affect people's lives?

Go to the complete interview from which this excerpt was taken.

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