History of Travel Trailers in the States
There has always been a wandering, exploring, pioneering culture in the States… they have so much open space and hidden things to discover.
Firstly we may need to explain the terms trailer & caravan…
In the USA a caravan is a group of travelers journeying together and a travel trailer is what we in the UK would regard as a caravan.
At this point, for reference, I think it would be worth saying that surprisingly the first motel opened in California in 1925…. another recognisable American icon that seems to have been about since time began!
In 1901 the very first motor homes were built as special order units by auto body builders
Tin Can Tourists is the oldest trailer club in the States and records that in 1905 Oscar Peter came to Tampa in a covered wagon which is recognized as the first step in their history although the were not formally organised till 1919.
Their stated objective at that time was – To Unite Fraternally All Auto Campers.
TCT continue to this day and are now committed to ‘the enjoyment, preservation and promotion of vintage trailers’ There is a link on our Friends page. Membership is open to all and Maybricks is the UK representative.
At this time ‘auto-camping’ was regarded as a rich mans hobby and became more accessible as the mass produced Ford Model T rolled out in 1907
1910 the first mass produced camping trailers started to come off the line from the Los Angeles Trailer Works & Auto-Kamp in Michigan with a few other brave manufacturers
1917 The first 5th wheelers are built by Curtiss-Wright who were better known for airplane manufacture
1919 TCT had first official rally in De Soto Park Tampa Florida
1922 the NY Times reports that 15 million campers are hitting the road!
Wally Byam spent part of his childhood travelling with his grandfather who led a mule train in Baker, Oregon. Later he worked as a shepherd then signed up with the merchant marines and graduated from Stanford University Law School in 1923
1926 Weidman Camp Bodies produced in Towanda NY
Wally Byam, as a young college graduate went to work for a magazine publisher in the Great Depression.
During his time there an article was published with instructions on how to build a camping trailer. The plans were used by many people but there were complaints regarding errors in the plans.
Wally Byam was determined to get to the root of the problem and so began to build trailers in his LA back garden… almost before he could finish each trailer they were sold. Each trailer was an experiment and the original idea was improved and so developed into a full time occupation by 1930.
He called his new trailer company AIRSTREAM.
In the mid thirties he met a pioneer in airplane design. William Henry Bowlus was building a trailer of stressed aluminium and went bankrupt in 1936. His work was sold at auction and WB bought some items and employed some of his workers. The first trailers produced bore the name of Bowlus.
In 1936 the Airstreams produced were almost identical to the previous Bowlus trailers with an Airstream nameplate. In January of 1936 the ‘Clipper’ was produced which was revolutionary and bore a resemblance to the aircraft of the day. It had a dinette which converted to a bed, carried its own water supply, a galley kitchen, electric lights and air conditioning with the assistance of some dry ice. The Clipper was expensive at $1200 but they could not keep up with the orders that were being placed. During WWII the Airstream Trailer Co closed its doors due to the constraints on materials and WB concentrated his experience on the war effort in the aircraft industry working for Lockheed and Curtis Wright.
After the war ended WB went back to his business and was once again snow under with orders by 1948.
During the next fifteen years the company continued to grow and produce more models and WB participated in caravans and rallies around the globe which carry on till this day.
1945 Getty produces a prototype Spartan Executive strongly influenced by aircraft design. There was no expense spared on these trailers and they incorporated lots of compound curves. G R Schules worked on the modern art deco style design elements and a 25ft Spartan Manor was almost $4000.00
Spartan continued to build longer and longer trailers always up to the minute furnishings. In the 50’s lots of other companies had joined the travel trailer market and a super economy Sparlane trailer was produced but sadly by 1959 the last trailers had rolled of the production line.
By this point 19 models had been produced the largest being 10ft wide and 50 ft long. The Crescendo & The Carousel had the most amazing 50’s styling with curving floorplans.
I personally would love one of these….
In 1952 a lease was taken up in Jackson Centre Ohio and the first Ohio Airstreams rolled off the production line and the Californian factory moved to larger premises in Santa Fe Springs
Wally Byam passed away in July of 1962 at the age of 66 He left behind a legacy that is woven into the American way of life and a lifestyle choice that many aspire to
1966 Winnebago produces the first mass produced motorhome assembly line
1976 Winnebago introduces the Heli Home… a helicopter camper!
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