RV History – The Vintage Era Towables – 1945 – 1970

This is a list of RV history from my opinion. The Vintage era of RV’s was the time between 1945 and 1970. A lot of people in this era had small homes and could not afford any more than a fifth wheel or a travel trailer. They wanted an RV that was small, light, easy to tow, and easy to use.

There have been many different kinds of RV’s over the years. The towables are the most common, with some classes of RV’s having a more utilitarian, utilitarian, or recreational feel to them. The following is a list of different classes of RV’s, and their approximate years of popularity, during the vintage era.

Between the years 1945 – 1970, the US government issued 1,432,000 vintage RV Restricted Vehicles (RVs) to veterans as part of a program called the Veterans Administration RV Program. These RVs were supposed to be used for recreation, but the program also served to demobilize the veterans by providing them with free RVs and some travel-related allowances.

In the first part of the Classic Car Era (1945-1970), we discussed how American industry led the Allies to victory, created a better all-around vehicle, and how these and other factors led to the creation of the leisure vehicle category. In the second part of the Vintage Era review of RV history series, we tell you how the RV industry became strong enough to weather any crisis. We also show you some of the great travel trailers from that era and why they are called canned ham trailers. Of course, we can’t talk about the vintage era without mentioning the iconic silver Road Bullets, the Airstream.

How the ancient world disappeared

During World War II, the RV industry adapted its production lines to manufacture the necessary military equipment. Some converted their vans into mobile hospitals, prison transports or morgues. Others will be completely refurbished to house weapons, aircraft and other equipment. After the war, most of these companies took a good look at post-war America and wondered what it would take to build vans again. The desire to get back on the road did not immediately appeal to the average American. The pre-war camper technology was outdated and needed a new look. Many boards, such as the popular Covered Wagon, saw no point in continuing. For this reason, most RV companies are closing their doors for good.

A new golden age in motorhome history – the vintage era

Now that the war is over, most military veterans have returned home. These young people were ready to move on with their lives, find a good job, settle down and start a family. Developers began to build suburbs. Middle America could move out of the city into single-family homes with the latest furniture. With the American economy booming, the new era has bright colors everywhere you look. Whether it’s your car, your furniture, the local restaurant or your new Technicolor TV, the objects around you represent a bright future. The urge to get in the car and go on holiday with the family in an SUV is back, but the public has new demands.

New definition of mobile home

When you look at your current RV, it’s easy to see that RV manufacturers go out of their way to make the vehicle look as much like home as possible. When you step aboard a luxury tractor-trailer or a top-of-the-range A-class motorhome, it doesn’t take much to imagine that you’re living life to the full in these models. The idea of mimicking vans in living spaces dates back to the early 1950s. Travelers wanted vinyl floors, a fully equipped kitchen and real hostess beds in the trailer. In other words: Travel caravan owners wanted to have the same luxury in their caravan as at home. Kids sleep on a four-seat dinette or an adjustable sofa bed, but even these have been upgraded. The exterior must have been as luxurious as the cars they towed. Campers from the antique era (1910-1944) have always had a certain appeal, but in those days they really had to shine. Design and construction materials have become more important for RV manufacturers to get the right look. The manufacturer’s response has led to weight problems. The concept of using light materials as replacements goes back to the time of the founders.

RV History Capital – Elkhart, Indiana

If you look at a map from the 1930s, Elkhart, Indiana, is not an active metropolitan area. It is a small town where the Amish and the English (non-Amish) live peacefully side by side. If you’re looking for a toll road in Indiana, you have decades to go, because it doesn’t exist yet. The question is how did this small town become the RV capital of the world? Milo Miller gave up his job as a commercial traveler. He decided to get into the RV business to better support his family. Miller did his job well, but he had a unique advantage: his location. Because of its location, it was between the future Motor City and several vendors. The automotive and mobile home industries have developed in southern Michigan, northern Indiana, and northwestern Ohio. Miller was in the thick of it. Wilbur Schult had his own business, but he needed a better location and manpower. He eventually bought out Miller’s company and formed Schult’s Trailer Company. By 1940, Schulz owned the largest mobile home company in the world, and also attracted suppliers from other manufacturers. After World War II, Elkhart was called the RV capital of the world by trade publications. By the mid-1960s, there were over 300 different mobile home manufacturers in Elkhart, Indiana. The oil crisis of the 1970s drove out many small brands, but the town’s location was ideal because auto parts suppliers, who made parts for cars and RVs, were close to both industries.

Army surplus rejuvenates tears and history RV

If you haven’t read our article on the era of classic cars, we recommend you read up on the origins of the motorhome. We already mentioned that the Teardrop trailer was the first self-built off-road vehicle in the 1930s. These magazines feature designs by aspiring RV designers. One of them was Wally Byham (yes, the first Airstream was a pile of wood that he built himself). After the Second World War, there was a lot of army surplus floating around. Companies had extra parts that the War Department never bought, or the finished units never got to the front because they were sold out. So when all these parts lay fallow, they were used by off-road enthusiasts. If you have the chance to visit an old drop-top trailer for sale or in an RV history museum, it’s definitely worth it. You’ll find Jeep tires, axles, suspensions and even projectile material from World War II vehicles. In the late 1940s, trailer builders were eager to get their hands on aluminum from aircraft. They were light, easy to handle, and if you had a board with the right design, you were the envy of everyone. Many of these post-war drops have different emblems than the original car they came from. You often see Army Air Corps badges with a round star. Obtaining a plaque featuring the female airplane mascot proved difficult as it was in high demand. If the manufacturers had been careful, the original green paint on the panels would still be there. The veterans who wanted to continue after the war removed the paint and used the materials. That’s why you won’t find many oldtimer trailers with the original paint of an airplane or a Jeep. Before you get angry, think about your grandparents, parents, siblings or other family members who served. Do they want a constant reminder of what they’ve been through? To those who have served, I thank you for your service to our country. To those who made the ultimate sacrifice, we will never forget you.

Shasta ushers in a new era in RVhistory.

There is one name that stands out in the history of RVs, that stands out in the vintage era, and that is Shasta. The Shasta Airflyte with its iconic Mercurial wings is the first image that comes to most people’s minds at the moment. However, the company’s founder, Robert Gray, did not bring this top model to market in 1941. He was a government contractor. San Diego, California, was the center of the Pacific front. Everything destined for the military went through San Diego on its way to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. As large as the base was, housing all the troops and support personnel was a major problem. Robert Gray’s Shasta trailers are excellent RV overflow housing to solve this situation. After the war, Gray continued to produce RVs under the Cozy Cruizer brand name, but the 14- and 35-foot Shasta trailers from the Van Nuys, California, plant did not appear on RV dealers’ counters until 1952. The first camper models were more square than the later models. In 1958 Gray opened a second plant in Goshen, Indiana, one of many in the RV capital of the world. These later models received Mercury’s rounded corners and front and rear fenders. As reviews from Shasta fans remained high, Shasta opened a third plant in Leola, Pennsylvania in 1963 to meet demand. Plants in Grapevine, Texas, and Battle Ground, Washington, will soon follow. In 1976 Coachmen purchased Shasta and retained it as a subsidiary for vintage style travel trailers. In the 1980s, Coachmen Shasta expanded its product line to include all categories of RVs, including campers, trailers, travel trailers and pop-up models. The expansion was short-lived, as in 2000 Coachmen downsized all of its various model lines to streamline production. When Forest River acquired Coachmen in 2009, they celebrated with a retro-styled 12-foot Airflyte boat that was only available for one year. The new parent company did not further develop the Airflyte because it could compete with the R-Pod.

They don’t drag them around like they used to, thankfully.

Today, Ford’s Godzilla engine is a 7.3-liter V8 that produces 430 hp and 475 lb-ft of torque. Your truck or SUV has a steel frame and an aluminum body. The various components in the vehicle are lightweight to maximize fuel efficiency and traction. If you compare your car to one from the 1950s, it may be a work of art, but your modern truck or SUV will surpass it in every way. The 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air was equipped with a V8 that produced 162 horsepower. The vehicles of the classic car era had steel chassis, frames and body parts. More than half the power of the car drove it. Still, they were very beautiful! Since towing capacity is limited, motorhome manufacturers have kept their products on the lower end of the spectrum. If you’ve seen the 1953 movie The Long-Long Trailer, in which Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez go on an off-road trip, they use a 1953 Mercury Monterey with 125 hp and 218 lb/ft of torque to pull a 3.5-foot Redman New Moon. It took a lot of cinematic magic to make this film. In the real world, the Arnez family would take full advantage of the vehicle’s towing capabilities. For a modern comparison, the 2019 Ford Fiesta was equipped with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with 112 horsepower and 202 pound-feet of torque. Before adding a tow bar to your two-seater, the Monterey had a steel frame and other components that could support the weight. New Moon had a solid wood frame and aluminum trim. The two brothers who made it presented it as the longest pendant in the world. Unfortunately, their popularity peaked during the war years as government housing. The film could not overcome the fact that most Americans did not have the vehicle to do it right.

Trailers for the transport of canned ham

One of the questions we asked at the end of our Vintage Era article was about the connection between processed meats and purveyors (we’ll come back to the snack cake in a bit). Answer: Spam. If you look at the original Spam box, it is square with rounded corners. In Europe, Spam meat refers to spiced ham or specially produced American meat. It’s incredibly nutritious (original recipe) and doesn’t need to be refrigerated. It is due to him that our troops were fed in the trenches and on the march on both fronts. Hormel has successfully produced this sealed food product. If you take a Spam box and lay it on one of its sides, you’ll notice that the shape is surprisingly similar to caravans from the 1950s and 1960s. The sides, roof and floor of the vehicle are flat. The front and rear of the van have a rounded or flat shape. Instead of using a square edge at the front and rear roof joint, the van manufacturers of the time rounded it off like a meat box. Hence the nickname of the canned ham caravan. The RV engineers didn’t have general specs on purpose, but we can’t be sure what they had in mind. Almost 100 different companies had their own version of this style. The advantage of this design is that the seal is placed deeper to minimize water ingress. The current one-piece rear, front, and roofing materials date to this early method.   Don’t worry, for those of us who follow a kosher or halal diet, roast beef has always been canned. Some famous names are:

  • Aloha 1954 in the mid 1970s. Aloha, OREGON (not Hawaii)
  • Comet 1947-1981. Wichita, KS.
  • Detroiters 1947-1980s. Detroit, Michigan.
  • Eljay Manufacturing 1950s-1960s. Winchester, North Carolina
  • Friendship for Mobile Homes 1957-1966. Friendship, Washington State
  • Go-Lite 1956-1968. Fremont, North Carolina
  • Kenskill 1946 to the mid-1970s. Burbank, California.
  • House of leisure 1955-1961. Salt Lake City, UT.
  • Nomad/Skyline 1951-1970. Elkhart, Indonesia
  • PleasureCraft 1955-1958. Cucamonga, California.
  • Cerro Scotti 1957-1997. Irvine, Pennsylvania.
  • Spartan 1945-1960. Tulsa, okay.

Wally Byham gets back to work on his silver twinkies.

Some call them silver bullets and others call them silver Twinkies (the famous children’s pastry). Whatever you call it, Wally Byam reopened the doors of Airstream after the war and created the most iconic brand still in circulation today. In fact, over 70% of all Airstream caravans are still in circulation today, including vintage Airstream models. During the Depression and the war, Byam closed the doors of his business because of the hard times. He ended up working for Lockheed for most of the war. In 1945, Curtis Wright wanted to open a department in his company to manufacture trailers. Walley had already built his Airstream Clipper with riveted hulls and other unique processes. Byam also openly chalked it up to Wright. Wright knew the partnership was not going to last, hired him and produced cars inspired by the Airstream for a few years until Wally left to reopen his factory. HistoryMotorhome – Airstream Overlander 1968 While you wait for the release of your favorite comic book (many of which date back to the vintage era) or other genre films, keep an eye out for the film Alumination, which comes out in April. Watch the documentary to learn the full story of Wally Byam and the development of Airstream. Byam and his engineers revolutionized the RV industry and introduced groundbreaking manufacturing techniques that the company and others still use today. The Airstream was the first to use aircraft aluminum, rubber torsion axles and a semi-shell body frame method. The construction method has changed little over the years. Byam immediately went back to work designing the 22-foot Liner, the 16-foot Wee Wind with the first screen door, the 28-foot Whirlwind with a door on each side, and the world-famous 22-foot Globetrotter. Byam and his fellow travelers have taken the Globetrotter around the world, proving the trailer’s longevity. The trailer has also proven that it is possible to travel in comfort and style. For a long time only one type of wood was used for construction. A long piece of plywood under the floor held the furniture and other furnishings together. In 2020, Airstream replaced the plywood with a wood-free composite, finally solving the problem of potential rot that is now rare. Pop-up campers are an important part of the history of campers word-image-5872

Ranger Rising

As we discovered at Antique Era, the history of the pop-up camper started with a tent trailer. These vehicles were canvas tents mounted on a towed trailer. The next technological leap did not occur until Hille Manufacturing developed the Ranger in 1954. The Californian company has developed a stool roof with sides made of tarpaulin. The rear of the trailer could be extended like a modern rear drawer (not like the trough-shaped beds of modern pop-up trailers). Hille only produced 200 models because the £1,000 caravan was too expensive for the time. The company closed in 1956, but the technology survived. The pulley system that lifts the roof is the heart of current models. There are cabinets, including wall cabinets, installed in the Ranger. There was a cooler and a sink with a hand pump. There are only a few dozen of these vehicles left in existence, but with a little restoration, this camper can compete with its predecessors.

Bring the vintage era to life with retro-styled carriers

If you like the vintage style, some RV companies are now producing modern models in this style. Today, these retro-style caravans feature modern amenities and construction, but you’ll find specific colors, floor plans and other features that will take you back in time. Riverside RV’s Retro range extends from a basic model to a 28ft family cabin. A classic black and white checkerboard floor, birch wood and four 1950s colors will get you in the mood for a sock hop. A modern retro caravan – Photo: Riverside RV Gulf Stream’s Vintage Cruiser has 11 floor plans ranging in length from 20 to 26 feet. You’ll appreciate that all of these travel trailers weigh less than 5,000 pounds, so you won’t need a big SUV to pull them. You can offer your children a classic sleeping experience on convertible furniture or opt for bunk bed models. Although Timberleaf Teardrops are not vintage aesthetically, you still get the same vintage feel. The construction details are taken from drawings of earlier drop designs. The company uses the highest quality materials and processes to make durable RVs, but it’s easy to get caught up in one of the 1940s versions. If you want to be part of recreational vehicle history by owning an old Airstream, there are a few companies that specialize in restoring these vehicles. Their representatives help you find your favorite model, plan the restoration, and their team gets to work. Many of these companies can offer modern features, such as. B. Flat screen TV, strategically hidden to achieve a vintage look with modern features.


In our next overview of RV history, focusing on the Classical and Neoclassical eras, you will learn what distinguishes these two eras. We will also inform you about important developments in motorhome technology and events in the motorhome world.Since the 1990s, RVing has experienced a resurgence, and for good reason: it’s a fun, affordable, environmentally friendly way to travel. Yet there’s more than one way to travel in an RV, and this includes RV history. When you’re thinking about the RVing lifestyle, RVing from the 50s, 60s, and 70s might not be the first thing that comes to mind. Yet these decades have been some of the most prolific in RVing history.. Read more about alumination documentary and let us know what you think.

Frequently Asked Questions

What did the first RV look like?

As the old saying goes, “waste not, want not”. The first RV (recreational vehicles) were built to be as simple and functional as possible, with lots of room for people to relax and enjoy their time away from their base of operations. They were built for family camping trips, road tripping across the country, and even for beaches and getaways. In 1938, the RV industry was just a few years old and its birth was not easy. When the first Terraplane was unveiled in 1933, it immediately sparked battles between the two main competitors, the Winnebago and the Overland. The latter marketed its products as a sophisticated motor home, with a top speed of 86 mph. However, the Terraplane kept the top speed at 90 mph, and boasted a top design speed of 100 mph, which was also the top speed of Ford’s Model A (the most popular car in America at this time).

When was the first RV ever made?

The first RV was built in 1945, the advent of the “shopping center” as we know it today, which was a place where people could go to buy toilet paper and batteries. There was also a time in the 50’s when there was a shortage of toilet paper. Some people sold their house to buy a roll of toilet paper. Such was the era of small and simple RV’s that were built on the back of a pickup truck. The first RV we know about was the Airstream trailer in 1929. In the 1950s, Airstream started producing the first travel trailers that were built for comfort. Starting in the late 60s and early 70s, Airstream began to incorporate more amenities and frills into its trailers.

What is the oldest travel trailer?

The trailer industry is like the Wild West in many ways, and the same can be said about the trailers themselves. Developers are constantly trying to push the envelope when it comes to innovation, and the quality of trailers has shown the highest level of advancement over the past few decades. Towable trailers of the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s used the same construction and design principles as their static cousins, so evolution didn’t change much from the ’50s through the ’70s. Towable camping trailers were available in a wide array of styles, from the low-slung fiberglass Airstreams, to the bell-shaped fiberglass Cocotas and the stout fiberglass Winnebagos. The term “towable” dates back to the early 20th century and, for whatever reason, was originally used to refer to the horse-drawn buggies that were common in the early 1900s. This term was soon co-opted by those who enjoyed camping and developed the need to transport their tents, sleeping bags, and the like from their campsite to their home without the need for a car.

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