Get the story behind Birmingham's century-old travel agency

There are few things in Birmingham older than Brownell Travel.

Vulcan wasn't sculpted until the 1904 World Fair. The historic Lyric Theatre wasn't built until 1914, and across the street, the Alabama Theatre wouldn't be built for another 13 years after. Even Sloss Furnaces, a company largely credited with pioneering the city's development, only preceded Brownell by seven years. In fact, the city itself is only 16 years Brownell's senior. So how did America's oldest leisure travel agency find itself in Birmingham, Alabama?

The story begins in 1887, when Walter A. Brownell, a professor of geology, took 10 of his friends and colleagues across the Atlantic to Europe. Well before the popularization of electricity and commercial air travel, the group journeyed to Switzerland by candlelight on a steam ship called the S.S. Devonia.

The trip was successful and soon Walter found himself with more travel enthusiasts than he could plan trips for. He recruited fellow professors (usually of romance languages) and their wives to lead trips, essentially becoming the first Brownell travel consultants.

At the turn of the century, Walter's son Dr. George Brownell and his wife Jennie took over the company, which has continued to send American travelers to cities across the globe for the past 130 years, even through WWI and WWII. As such, the company has quite the history, with a wealth of stories and fun facts. One of the most bizarre: George Brownell's son, George Jr., worked as a spy during WWII. ....

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