Vintage Travel Decals: Where Useless Information, Sex and Stereotypes Meet

Craig Fitzgerald

Craig Fitzgerald | May 12, 2015

Maybe it's because I had only traveled to four states by the age of 15 that I've always loved travel decals. My parents had a Serro Scotty travel we used to bring to Maine, and while the Fitzgeralds never went anywhere, I'd see trailers pulling in slathered in water transfer decals from all over the country. These days, I've got a small collection stuck on the side window of my '79 Chevy Blazer that I wrote about for my friend Mod Betty at RetroRoadmap.com a while back, and it's given me insight into what the artists who created these decals were after.

In general, you can break your average travel decal down into three major categories: Useless Infomation, Sex and Stereotypes.

USELESS INFORMATION

There' s a lot you can learn from a travel decal. For instance, you might not know that Vermont was overrun with polar bears, if it wasn't for this decal from the 1960s. Believe me, I lived there for eight years. Those things are like racoons in your trash barrel.

Also, I had no idea that Tennessee's state flower was the Goldenrod. According to Wikipedia "They are considered weeds by many in North America." Tennessee's state activity must be sneezing.

This Wisconsin decal is pretty detailed. Circa 1955, this thing was probably as accurate as Apple Maps is today.

And really, what's more appealing for tourists than a slimy clam foot sticking out of a mollusk shell?

SEX

The 1950s were a simpler time, when you'd buy yourself a little travel trailer and stick cartoon illustrations of sexy ladies all over the windows, presumably for those lonely nights in the woods of New Hampshire.

Listen, I spent a lot of time with fishermen in Maine and none of them dressed like this. At least not on dry land.

Ms. Spud 1959 certainly is fancy.

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STEREOTYPES

My favorite travel decals take whatever is the stereotype you wish everyone would forget about your state, and magnifies it a thousandfold. Like "Hey, you're from Boston, you must LOVE BEANS."

I imagine all of these decals were drawn up in a single office in Newark, New Jersey, penned by people who had never even crossed the George Washington Bridge. They must've used some cheap gas station version of the Encyclopedia Britannica for research.

"Utah: Home of the Mormons. You can't sink." Whoever came up with this public relations bonanza needs a raise.

Massachusetts is peopled entirely by pilgrims. I like how 1950s-era Brockton is famous for apples. If they made this decal today, it'd show a guy in a pilgrim hat getting carjacked.

Louisiana has a lady without a shirt on suggesting you visit Mardi Gras, which seems like the most truthful advertisement I've ever read.

My favorite is Arkansas, featuring a beat up old jalopy, piloted by a crew of hillbillies that make Jethro Clampett look like a Rhodes Scholar.

It's kind of sad that every tourist trap in America doesn't still have these. It's because we fly everywhere when we vacation, instead of driving. We need to get back to a time when you used to see the country through the frame of a car window, and your opinion of a given state was based entirely on a cartoon.

Don't make me turn this car around.


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