The Americans, it seems, have been destined to be RVers since the earliest days when researchers set foot on this continent. Adventurers at heart, pioneers came in search of freedom and opportunities to grow and discover. And come upon that they did it – at first by ship, then by horse, in types of Conestoga wagon trains, and eventually by motorized vehicles that heralded the RVs of today.
Long time ago, the desired of the automobile, the making and improvement of the roads and America’s passion for exploration and research led to mass-produced, manufactured new recreational vehicles, and the RV industry was born.
In 1910 there were only a few gas stations, few paved roads and no highway system. But there were campers. 1910 is the year that America’s leading RV historians – David Woodworth, Al Hesselbart, and Roger White – call the beginning of what the modern motorhome industry has become
“The very first motorized campers were built in 1910,” says Woodworth, an outstanding and well known collector of early RVs and RV memorabilia. “In the past, people stored themselves in private train wagons that were pulled along sidings along the tracks, and the year 1910 brought new freedom for people who did not want to be limited by the rail system, and campers allowed them to go where they wanted, when they wanted.”
Hesselbart, archivist of the RV / MH Heritage Museum in Elkhart, Indiana, 1910 also referred to as the birth of the motorhome industry. “Camping has been around for centuries, but in 1910 the first car-related camping vehicles were built for commercial sale.” Known as a “car camper” or “camping trailer” a century ago, these vehicles were a forerunner of today’s modern RVs.
“There were unique [single units] built before 1910,” says White, an associate curator of the Smithsonian Institution. “But it was 1910 which is a good benchmark for the industry.”
“The Motorhomes of 1910 offered minimal comfort compared to today’s home-on-wheels,” says Woodworth. “But they have the freedom to travel anywhere to get a good night’s sleep and enjoy home-cooked food – a striking contrast to today’s RV was the bathroom – in 1910 it was typically either Yonder tree or Yonder bush.”
Also trailer of Los Angeles Trailer Works and Auto-Kamp Trailers rolled off the line in 1910. A version of today’s Type B transport, the Pierce-Arrow “Touring Landau”, was unveiled in the same year at Madison Square Garden, complete with an on-board bath. These companies and innovative products were unveiled in 1911 in a Popular Mechanics edition. Take a walk through the memory trail to see where we have been.
The Earl of 1913 was an ancestor of the contemporary travel trailer.
RV camping clubs are from the Tin Can Tourists of the 1920s and 1930s. The Tin Can Tourists were RVers who braved dust and mud to drive their Tin Lizzies through the United States before transcontinental roads were paved. They camped by the side of the road, heated cans of food on gasoline stoves, and bathed in cold water.
Camper vans that were sold in the 1930s used aircraft construction and were equipped with beds, food, electricity and water. After the Second World War, the RV industry flourished as more and more Americans sought mobility.
From tiny do-it-yourself kits to plushy 30-foot models, travel trailers came into play until 1950 as real, drag-and-drop RVs. Many of today’s RV manufacturers started production in the 1950s and 1960s. The evolutionary path of the camper included advances in aerodynamic design and interior comfort.
Through war and peace, booms and bankruptcies, fuel lines, fads and the cyber revolution, the RV lifestyle has persisted in today’s tough economic times and is still strong.