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Progressive Era to New Era
Automobiles in the Progressive and New Eras
Hotels and Automobiles

The following excerpt, from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940, was taken from a WPA oral history interview with Robert E. Gould. For twenty-three years he was host of the Newport House, a hotel in Newport, New Hampshire. What does Gould say about the recent changes in the hotel business? Which of these does he attribute to the automobile?

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"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 had their fling with cabins and their like, they will be coming back to hotels again. . . .

"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. . . .

"The old drummer trade represented a steady income... one you could plan on. Each of those drummers had his regular route, and he stuck to it like clockwork...same day, same train, week in, week out, barring accidents. We could place our food ahead, know how many rooms would be taken.

"To-day there may be a crowd here, to-morrow, a handful. I may have a telephone message this afternoon... dinner for fifty people. Ever catch us short? Oh, yes, but we do the best we can. That's where our local markets serve us; we're better fixed than many country hotels."
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View the entire interview from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940. Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.