As American cities grew bigger in the 19th century, their residents began to notice one unintended consequences of urbanization, not know as the "heat island" effect. In the 1860s, one NYC official explained that “powerful irradiation from sidewalks, pavements, and walls” made the city a “fiery furnace in Summer."
Hiking was becoming popular at the same time. But despite the image of the solitary wanderer, famously embodied by John Muir, hiking in its earliest days was a social activity. The decisive moment, as this review explains, "was thus the formation of groups like the Appalachian Mountain Club and the Sierra Club, in which 'meetings, dances, meals, and simple companionship were almost as important as the act of walking itself.'"
As summer vacation became more available to middle-class Americans in the second half of the 19th century, book publishers took note. "Light novels, paperback novels, novels that were easily portable or could be read while lying under a tree: All of these became embraced by the tastemakers of the industry.”
Tradition and storytelling are woven into life at many summer camps. But this article takes us all the way back to the beginning of summer camp itself, explaining that the idea arose in 1861 out of an effort to show solidarity with the Union Army. It turned out that roughing it for a few weeks with a bunch of other kids was actually pretty fun.