Owning an RV has never been more popular. In recent years, it seems that everyone has become a camper owner along with their dog.
RV dealer lots have been empty for a while, and it’s still almost impossible to reserve a spot at some campgrounds. So who do we have to thank for all this craziness? Who invented the motorhome?
Today we’re taking you on a little history lesson to find out where #RVlife began. Buckle up and let’s get started!
They come in a variety of sizes and styles, from small trailers that can be towed behind a car to large, luxury RVs that can accommodate larger families.
They have become a popular way to travel and explore the country. Travelers love that they offer a comfortable and convenient way to experience the great outdoors while enjoying the comforts of home.
These motor homes were simple trailers pulled behind cars or trucks. They certainly didn’t have the amenities and features that many of us enjoy in our RVs today.
It wasn’t until the 1950s that full-sized vehicles began to appear as motorhomes. Ray Frank developed the “Motorhome Coach” which was built on a Dodge truck chassis and had a sleeping area, bathroom and small kitchen.
Over the years, motorhomes evolved and improved. Manufacturers began to incorporate more amenities and features to create more comfortable and convenient motorhomes.
Who is Roland R. Conklin?
Roland R. Conklin was an American inventor and entrepreneur in the early 1900s. Due to the family’s success in various business fields, they were considered one of the wealthiest families in the country.
Roland Conklin founded the American Motor Coach Company in 1901, specializing in the manufacture of custom luxury coaches.
Then the entrepreneur recognized the opportunity to combine the luxury of hotels with tent camping. He created a vehicle with beds, seating,
storage space and a kitchen.
However, he didn’t do it alone. He leaned on his wife to make sure the idea appealed to multiple demographics. He gave his creation the name “Gypsy Van.”
Conklin continued to innovate and improve his original RV design. He founded several other successful companies in the RV and transportation industries. He pioneered the modern RV industry, and his contributions have helped shape the way people travel and live on the road today.
About the Conklin family’s RV trip
What better way to showcase Conklin’s creation than to take his family on a road trip? And that’s exactly what they did. The family loaded up the 8-ton behemoth in Huntington, N.Y., and headed to San Francisco, Calif.
For two months, the family crisscrossed the United States in the Gypsy Van. It attracted national attention, and thousands watched as they traveled west.
But this was long before the Internet and social media. People had to wait for the New York Times and other well-known media to inform the readers of their newspapers.
The Conklins prepared the ground for modern RV travel. They gave everyone a glimpse of the possibilities. Whether you travel
full time in your RV or use it as a recreational activity for shorter trips, you have the Conklins to thank for bringing attention to this lifestyle.
The earliest motorhomes
Although many opposed the introduction of motor homes for camping, they were selling briskly in the 1930s. According to some estimates, more than 400 RV manufacturers were established in the 1930s.
Many of the biggest names in the industry today were founded during this time. Let’s take a look at some of the first RVs and how they helped shape the future of the RV for modern consumers.
The Planwagengesellschaft: Founded in 1930
Arthur G. Sherman went on a camping trip in a tent on a trailer. These tents were widely available at the time and were set up with a folding frame. However, they were very difficult to set up, especially in the rain, as Sherman found out.
Like most good inventors, he thought there had to be a better way. So Sherman hired a carpenter to construct a simple wooden hut on wheels.
When it was finished, he and his family tested it on a camping trip. They had a much more pleasant experience, and other campers flocked to his campsite to inquire about the construction.
He founded The Covered Wagon Company, which mass-produced trailers from 1929 to 1958. As demand for the trailers increased, the factory produced 1,000 trailers per month. These were the first trailers to be equipped with electric brakes, waterproof exterior walls, and sinks with running water.
Like most manufacturers, the company drastically changed its production during World War II. Instead of producing camping trailers, the company began manufacturing cargo bodies for trucks to support the war effort.
Unfortunately, the company never resumed trailer production after the end of World War II.
Airstream: Founded in 1931
Airstreams and their all-metal designs are the most iconic campers in the RV industry. You’ll recognize an Airstream as soon as you see it in the campground. These luxurious campers come with a hefty price tag.
However, their unique designs have helped them last for decades. Airstream says, “Approximately 70 percent of the Airstream travel trailers ever built are still on the road.”
Wally Byam, the company’s founder, built travel trailers in his backyard in Los Angeles, California, in the 1920s. He used surplus aircraft aluminum, which was very different from what others were using at the time.
He had a passion for travel and entrepreneurship. Starting a recreational vehicle company was the perfect combination.
After several years of making campers in his backyard, Byam introduced the Airstream Clipper in 1931. Campers loved the aerodynamic shape, clean aluminum body and quality construction.
The company quickly gained a reputation in the RV community and became a symbol of travel in American popular culture.
Today, Airstream is one of the leading brands in the huge RV industry. Despite its high prices, it is not uncommon for the manufacturer to have a long waiting list for production. However, many customers feel that they are worth the price and the wait.
Please note: Airstreams are a classic, but they are expensive! So why are Airstreams so expensive?
The Jungle Yacht: Used in 1938
Much like RVing, #vanlife has become incredibly trendy in recent years. But for as long as there have been cars, people have traveled the country in vehicles. They may not have had automatic leveling, satellite TV, or other luxuries, but they served their purpose.
The Jungle Yacht is an example of what was possible in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Unfortunately, only two Jungle Yachts were built, and no one knows where they are today.
These huge vehicles offered passengers a hotel-like luxury experience during their adventures. The jungle yachts were used primarily on two African expeditions.
The jungle yacht was the brainchild of Attilio Gatti, a 20th century African explorer.
After emptying his bank account while exploring the African continent, he came to the United States in 1930. He hoped that he could raise money in America to continue his dream of exploring Africa.
For his tenth and final expedition, he partnered with International Harvester. They built two jungle yachts for him and his team to use during the trip.
The two craft were built on a 1937 International Harvester D-35 chassis. They were 44 feet long and weighed 9 tons, which did not make them easy to maneuver.
The vehicles had a bedroom, a full bathroom, an all-electric kitchen, and an office. And they provided plenty of space for Gatti’s research equipment and devices.
In addition, the jungle yacht had air conditioning, a bathtub, and a 110-volt generator that powered electric lights and other equipment.
At the time, these vehicles cost $15,000, which is about $300,000 today. However, if you can find either of these vehicles, they are probably worth much more than that today.
Source: Wisconsin Historical Society
The best museums for RV history
If you enjoy RV travel or have an interest in history, you won’t want to miss some of these museums. Here are some of the best RV history museums to consider in your travel plans. Let’s check it out!
RV Hall of Fame and Museum (Indiana)
The RV Hall of Fame and Museum in Elkhart, Indiana, preserves the history and culture of recreational vehicles and the RV industry. The museum features a variety of exhibits that illustrate the history of RVs, from early campers and campers to modern luxury RVs.
Visitors can view antique and historic RVs, including a 1913 Earl Travel Trailer and a 1929 canopied camper. In addition, guests can experience modern RVs such as a Prevost camper and a prototype futuristic RV.
The museum also features a research library, gift store and a movie theater showing films about the history of the RV industry.
The museum hosts events and special exhibits throughout the year. These include the annual Hall of Fame awards ceremony, which honors individuals who have made significant contributions to the RV industry.
Volo Auto Museum (Illinois)
The Volo Auto Museum in Volo, Illinois, features over 33 exhibits and displays that showcase a variety of automobiles, from vintage and classic cars to modern supercars and movie vehicles.
While the car show gets all the attention, there are also some incredibly rare vintage RVs there.
The museum houses a 1928 Ford Model A House Car, and converting vehicles into mobile homes was common in the 1920s as people traveled in search of work during the Great Depression.
However, this particular vehicle was built by Ford and is one of two known examples. When it comes to rare motorhomes, this vehicle is about as rare as it gets!
In addition to the 1928 Ford, you’ll have the opportunity to take a look at several other motorhomes from the 1930s, ’40s, and ’60s.
Rounding out the RV exhibit is a variety of memorabilia from the glory days of road tripping. On display are vintage items such as canned goods, games, fishing gear and antique radios.
Don’t forget: What is a recreational vehicle anyway? Click on the link to find out!
John Sisemore Travel and RV Museum (Texas)
The John Sisemore Traveland RV Museum is located in Amarillo, Texas. The museum features
vintage motorhomes and campers, including some of the earliest motorhome models from the 1930s and ’40s.
The museum’s extensive collection includes more than 30 vintage and classic RVs, including a 1935 Bowlus Road Chief, a 1946 Spartan Manor and a 1960s Airstream Bambi.
Each vehicle in the museum collection is restored and displayed in its original condition, giving visitors a unique glimpse into the history of the RV industry.
In addition to the exhibits, the John Sisemore Traveland RV Museum offers a variety of interactive experiences, including a virtual reality tour where visitors can experience what it’s like to travel in an RV.
The museum also features a gift store where visitors can purchase souvenirs and RV-related merchandise.
Motorhoming is not a new phenomenon
Even though RVing seems to be in vogue today, it is nothing new. RVing is a pastime that has been around for nearly a century. However, it has evolved from simple camping trailers to today’s luxury motorhomes.
RV living has become a popular way to explore the country and enjoy the great outdoors.
Whether you’re a seasoned RVer or just starting out, there’s never been a better time to hit the road and explore all that this great country has to offer.