The evolution of hitchhiking in America during the 20th century sheds light on larger cultural trends galvanized by ideas of community. Its dramatic decline as a realistic mode of transportation since the early 1970s is indicative of Americans’ ever growing fear of strangers. This project traces the lenses that Americans have used to judge hitchhiking as a safe or dangerous activity in the 20th century. These lenses are organized into three main categories: hitchhiking for a purpose, hitchhiking as an expression of freedom, and hitchhiking as a threat to one’s safety. Each of these lenses emerged as a result of the social and political concerns that gripped Americans when they were implemented; they are distinct ideas but also temporally overlapping. My aim in dissecting these lenses is to show how hitchhiking began as an activity whose organizing principle was community. Gradually, though, middlebrow America began to fear hitchhiking as it was adopted by a youth culture that used movement as an expression of its rebellious ideologies. This fear persists today, spurred by stereotypes of hitchhikers that are disseminated through technological innovations. These innovations have in turn influenced our notion of community.


Hettinger, Madonna




Cultural History | History | United States History



Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis



© Copyright 2014 Zane S. Polston