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Tin Can Tourists Helped Boost Sarasota Economy

Articles: Sarasota History

Author: Ann A. Shank, former County Historian
Photo Credit: Sarasota County History Center
Credit: Sarasota County History Center

Sarasota History - Tin Can Tourists Helped Boost Sarasota Economy photo

The Tin Can Tourists of the World organized at DeSoto Park in Tampa after World War I and had a major impact on tourism in Sarasota, especially in the 1930s. Their membership card listed their purposes: to unite fraternally all auto campers, to provide clean and wholesome entertainment at all campfires and to help enforce the rules governing all camp grounds. Their emblem was a tin can worn on the front of the car.

A local group of Tin Can Tourists organized in January 1921 with eleven members. The title of their presiding officer was "Chief Tin Can Opener." While Tin Canners came to Sarasota during the 1920s, staying in a number of auto camps around the city, it was not until 1932 that Sarasota hosted the winter convention of the TCT.

In 1931 Mayor E.A. Smith and other community leaders decided to lure the annual TCT convention away from Arcadia, where it had been conducted for a number of years. A motorcade of nearly 250 cars drove from Sarasota to Arcadia, parking in the camp. Carrying banners inviting the TCT to Sarasota, community leaders distributed free copies of the Sarasota Herald and gave speeches promoting the change in venue. The Sarasota Bay Post 30 American Legion Band presented a concert to the 2,000 campers. When the vote was counted, Sarasota had won the contest.

From 1932 to 1938 the winter TCT convention met in Sarasota, just east of the Payne Park ball field. Several thousand campers attended each year and participated in a variety of activities. The annual TCT parade along Main Street included trailers from the modern to the historic, floats representing the camper's home states, clowns and a number of bands.

While business meetings were scheduled several times during the week, more time was devoted t having fun. There were horseshoe and shuffleboard contests, baseball, boxing, wrestling and field sports. For those who preferred to sit, there were competitions in bridge, 500 and pinochle.

The TCT prided itself on the high standards of conduct for its members. Rules in their camps prohibited the use of liquor, firearms, open fires, vile language or disorderly conduct. Dishwater was not to be thrown on or around shrubbery. Quiet was kept between 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m.

Although the "tin can" name had been considered a joke by both the members and public in the organization's early days, by the time the Tin Canners met in Sarasota, the name was taken seriously. Not only did it stand for tourists who cared for their camps, it also represented people who contributed much to the local economy. Businesses placed large display ads in the Sarasota Herald during the TCT convention and the Sarasota Merchants Association offered free bus shuttle service between the TCT grounds and Five Points.

Although the TCT is no longer around, Payne Park continued to invite and attract the tourist and resident alike. For many years, Payne Park was home to the Sarasota Mobile Home Park, a hub of activity for east and central Sarasota. The mobile home park was closed several years ago, and in 2008, Payne Park reopened with much fanfare as an extensive recreational park, delighting visitors and residents alike.