Human beings have always been RVers of a sort. Currently, RVing is one of the most popular modes of vacation transportation. It’s versatile, affordable and comes with an entire lifestyle that appeals to vacationers and “home bodies” alike. With the fifth wheel camper topping the list of popular RV types for modern day RVers, it’s no wonder that more and more travelers are turning to the RV lifestyle as not only a solution to their need for affordable and enjoyable vacationing, but often as an entire lifestyle change.
The popularity of fifth wheels, Class As, travel trailers, etc. lead many to wonder where it all began. According to the history books, early man often packed up his entire home and took it with him to go hunting for food, or to find a more hospitable climate.
Horse drawn wagons specifically built for people to live in were built in France sometime during the early 1800s. These unique vehicles were used primarily by traveling showmen, circus performers and gypsies. Later, pioneers in America would adopt similar transportation to open up the west.
The invention of the automobile and Henry Ford’s creation of the Model T (or Tin Lizzie as it was known) was the true beginning of RVing. The Tin Lizzie was the first automobile marketed for the average consumer at an affordable price. It wasn’t long before the more adventurous folks were loading them down with supplies and taking to the open road.
Soon, people began to realize they could attach wagons and carts to the rear of their cars and carry even more stuff. Some even built carts with all the comforts of home similar to the covered wagons used when America was young. The only problem was that the wooden wheels used on the wagons and carts could not stand up to the rough and tumble dirt roads that made up America’s highways and byways during the time period. Soon enterprising and skilled men were replacing the wooden wheels with the much heavier tires used on automobiles.
Within a decade, some people had begun motorizing their “house trailers” by attaching them to the chassis of their cars then switching back to the passenger car body when they got home from vacation. This was easily accomplished because during the early days of the automobile, vehicles for different applications often used the same engine and frame. So, the body of the vehicle was bolted on and was easily modified or removed. These vehicles were one of the creations built by enterprising and skilled campers who enjoyed the comfort of home while on the road. You could say they were the first RVs created by the RVers themselves.
In 1915 Samuel B. Lambert invented the Lamsteed Kampkar, a camper type body that perfectly fit the chassis of Ford vehicles. The Lamsteed Kampkar had sides that folded down to make two 43-inch wide beds. Also in 1915 Mary and Roland Conklin, the owners of the Motor Bus Company, built a 25-ft., eight-ton vehicle with a home-like interior. It was affectionately named the Gypsy Van. Other manufacturers soon followed but all had one thing in common, their campers were add-on bodies to be used with an existing vehicle, or created using the chassis of commercial grade vehicles.
Wood was the primary material used in the construction of these “conversion” RVs. The bodies were commonly built to fit on the Ford chassis and were shipped to the purchaser with “some assembly required.”
The 1930s were a decade that seems dedicated to RVing via “house trailers.” Hundreds of manufacturers popped up and began making them in sizes ranging from the tiny “tear drop” trailer to rolling palaces.
Manufacturers also began using more materials for their structures. The Gilkie tent trailer for instance, was made from a heavy-duty khaki canvas, while the 1935 “Road Chief” featured a body made entirely from aluminum.
Even auto builder Pierce-Arrow got into the travel trailer game, perhaps in a last ditch effort to save the failing company. That is not to say that the company made low quality campers. In fact, Pierce-Arrow was the first to build an all-metal trailer and the first to offer brakes.
The 1940s, and World War II, brought a temporary halt to the growth of the RVing industry. Manufacturers turned their facilities toward supporting the war effort and millions of men shipped overseas. Travel trailers weren’t completely forgotten during the war years however, they were often used as housing for war time employees.
At the close of the war, manufacturers again got to work making bigger and better trailers, but this time many of them began to build truly motorized versions. Motor homes were invented and almost overnight the history of RVing was changed forever.
Throughout the 1950s, RVs and RVing as a lifestyle grew bigger and bigger. It was during this time period that the first motorhomes were built using their own chassis, and engines were placed in the rear. Since then, anything has become fair game. The modern RV is literally a home on wheels.