A Brief History of RVing

by | The Oracle

Some people like to know things about everything, including the history of RVs, that is, recreational vehicles. Such people likely include those who want to start an RV life, aka, a van life, or those who simply want to spend some quality time in an RV.

What is an RV?

You might have ended reading this article because you asked a search engine what an RV is. This question is quite common, as the concept of RV includes several different types of vehicles that can be used for recreational travel or as mobile homes. The term can be used for any motorvehicle or trailer that includes accommodation facilities such as beds and kitchen tools. Motorhomes, caravans, campervans, truck campers, and popup campers are all RVs.

The Birth of RVing

Many are well aware that there is a huge difference between the way the 20th century started and the way it ended and no other previous century started so differently from the way it ended. This is also the case for transportation, as back in the early 1900s people could only travel long distances by sleeping in private rail cars, which were not always able to get you everywhere you wanted and had strict schedules.

The history of RVs starts in the United States and first-ever RV was built onto a vehicle in 1904, The vehicle was illuminated with incandescent lights, had a radio, and an icebox. It is likely that the first RV was inspired by traditional caravans, who were used in Europe by nomadic groups such as the Romani and people traveling with the circus since the 19th century.

The RV industry started in 1910, when several motorized recreational vehicles were produced. The Pierce-Arrow Touring Landau was the first RV to be shown at the Madison Square Garden auto show (New York). The RV featured a back seat that could be converted into a bed and a sink that could be folded. It was also during this time that the media started to cover stories about road life, including the coverage of a group known as the Vagabonds who traveled in a customized Lincoln truck. The Vagabonds consisted of Harvey Firestone, Henry Ford, John Burroughs and Thomas Edison.

In the early 20th century, an RV typically included cooking and sleeping utilities. The first company to make RViers happy with restroom facilities was Trailer Works, from Los Angeles. As you might suspect, people using these vehicles had a hard time traveling on large distances, as roads were limited and there was no highway network.

Canadians also started to build motorhomes around the 1910s while the earliest known RV in Australia was only built in 1929. If you want to see it in a partially-restored state, you have to visit the Goolwa Museum, somewhere in South Australia. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find much about the history of motorhomes in other parts of the world. Quite likely, North America is the place where they are the most popular and this has been true since they first appear.

RVs between 1920 and 1950

If you have ever been interested in restoring vintage vehicles, you may have heard of The Tin Can Tourists, a club for RV enthusiasts who was founded in 1920 to become one of the first official clubs of this type. The club got its name because some members tin cans to their radiators in order to warm up food when they were on the road.

While The Tin Can Tourists tried different approaches in mobile living, technological innovations came from companies such as Airstream, which produced the first self-contained trailer and was soon followed by others. Unlike many traditional homes at that time, some of these trailers had electricity and water.

The end of tent-style trailers was marked by the launch of Covered Wagon, which was displayed by Arthur G. Sherman at the Detroit Auto Show in 1930. It is said that Sherman was inspired by an incident where his family got soaked during a thunderstorm while setting what was meant to be an waterproof cabin.

While the 1930s was the decade when Airstream trailers became mass-produced, it was generally a period of decline for the RV industry. The economic crisis of the 1930s left very few Americans who could afford an RV and World War II brought several problems, including an aluminum shortage.

RVs in the 1950s

The 1950s marked the beginning of the modern era of RVing. While it’s hard to associate the word “modern” with anything from the ’50s, it’s worth noticing that it is the decade when vehicles that combined car and trailer functionalities become a reality.

The 1950s was also the decade when the purchasing power of Americans increased more rapidly than ever and RVs became more diverse in order to accommodate different types of consumers. During the time, many of today’s RVs manufacturers started to produce these vehicles at a larger scale, including Airstream, Ford, and Winnebago.

Rving in the ’60s and the ’70s

In the revolutionary decades of the 1960s and 1970s, we see the emergence of destination travel, where people no longer do RVing only as full-time living or occasional travel but also for music festivals or political events. In this period, many RVs get a little bit more personality, as owners paint them with hippy symbols. Whether you were going to San Francisco, to a concert, or to protest against the dominant norms and rules of the time, an RV was always an option to consider.

A Volkswagen vintage RV

I would say size isn’t the strength of this vintage RV

A vintage trailer

Rving Today

Modern RVs typically have cooking tools, microwaves, dishwashers, washers, dryers, and sometimes satellite dishes. Modern RVs can also carry other vehicles, including motorcycles, ATVs, and snowmobiles. Many companies are well aware of the market value of the RV culture, which can be easily seen with names such as Amazon and Walmart who are producing amenities specifically designed for road trips.

Contemporary RVs

Giving the huge diversity of RVs that are currently on the market, it is reasonable to assume that you must have really odd needs if you can’t find an RV that can make you happy. Those who are considering renting an RV for their next trekking experience can find one from our partner Outdoorsy by clicking here. Whether you want to rent a RV in North America or other parts of the world, there’s a good chance you’ll find something you like. For commodity, you can use search filters, including vehicle type, amenities, and rating, to name a few.

An edgy RV

If you are considering buying an RV (whether new or used), you can try finding one at our partner RVT by clicking here. You can also use the RVT website to sell your RV.

Finally, if you are a RVer and want to share some RVing tips or insightful road experiences, feel free to do so in the discussion section.

Happy RVing!


History Cooperative: https://historycooperative.org/the-history-of-rvs/


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