22 artifacts in this set
The growth of automobile ownership and development of good roads in the 1910s and 20s drove many Americans to explore the country. Some auto tourists opted to stay in the comfort of local hotels and some liked "roughing" it in tents; others wanted something in-between. Camping trailers provided a home-like shelter for a stay in nature.
The motorhome concept is nearly as old as the automobile, but the earliest forms were aftermarket conversions rather than factory products. This Nomad's body originally sat on a Ford Model TT chassis. In 1928 it was remounted on a Graham Brothers truck chassis. Novelists John Stanton and Mary Chapman owned the Nomad for 47 years and visited 24 states with it.
Henry Ford gave this trailer to his friend Charles Lindbergh in 1942. Charles and his wife Anne used it as a home on the road and as a spare room and a study at home. Anne wrote The Steep Ascent here, and Charles wrote portions of his Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Spirit of St. Louis.
Some people preferred the home-like comfort and privacy provided by trailers compared to auto- and tent-camping. The couple in this photograph enjoys camp life under a striped awning attached to their trailer.
The 1949 Ford and a Vagabond trailer are featured in this Ford Motor Company publicity photograph. Though the 1949 Ford came with a new sleek look, it still relied on the pre-war V-8 engine design for power -- enough to tow a vacation trailer.
Auto camping in the 1920s and 30s did not need to be uncomfortable. Trailers could provide home-like comforts not found in a tent. This 1930s Covered Wagon trailer catalog depicts happy inhabitants enjoying real beds, preparing meals in compact but convenient kitchens, and eating meals in peace and comfort. The trailer became not only a shelter but a home.
This familiar riveted, aluminum-skinned trailer was introduced in 1936 by trailer manufacturer Wally Byam. As tourism flourished after World War II, the Airstream gained a reputation as the quality leader in the travel trailer industry. Its popularity spawned well-organized caravans to famous travel destinations across the country.
Auto camping took many forms, even attaching your tent to the top of your car. This photograph shows a roof top tent on a 1956 Ford station wagon.
This colorful 1960 catalog features the amenities found in the Volkswagen Camper. The VW Westfalia's interior transformed from dining room to kitchen to bedroom. Owners could also purchase exterior awnings. VW referred to the Westfalia as a house on wheels.
A new generation of self-propelled recreational vehicles emerged out of the booming vacation market of the 1950s and 1960s. Building upon the popularity of the Volkswagen van camper, first introduced in the United States in 1956, automobile manufacturers worked with recreational equipment companies to produce their own versions of van campers by the early 1960s.
Beginning in the 1930s, trailers promised family togetherness in a stylish unit that could be conveniently detached from the car. Even after manufacturers introduced fully integrated motorhomes, tourists enjoyed the comforts of home on the road with tent trailers like this one in Florida's Fort De Soto Park.
The Volkswagen Type II camper, introduced in 1949, fueled a postwar interest in recreational vehicles in the United States. The compact van was a marvel of efficient design with a bench that folded into a double bed, an ice box, multiple storage spaces and an optional gas stove. Even the spare tire did double duty as a table stand.
Auto manufacturers embraced the market potential of campers and motor homes in the 1960s, creating their own versions. This 1968 Chevrolet recreational vehicle catalog provided potential buyers with needed information and a variety of available choices.
Volkswagen introduced the first van campers in the 1950s. By the mid-1970s, Americans had embraced the ingeniously compact, versatile vehicles. This family demonstrates the functionality of the Volkswagen Westfalia Camper, which included amenities such as an icebox and foldout seat arrangements for sleeping. This model is shown with optional pop up top, side tent, and awning.
Recreational vehicles appeal to those who want to explore the open road while taking the comforts of home with them. Putting a house on wheels demands efficient use of space. Bench seats fold into beds. Overhead bins provide maximum storage. Special cabinet locks prevent items from falling out while the vehicle is in motion.
Improving cars and improving highways encouraged Americans to start taking road trips in the 1920s. Thrifty travelers either slept in their cars or pitched tents along the roadside. "Auto camps" were established to cater to these tourists' needs. This guide, published by the Automobile Club of Southern California, lists locations and amenities for auto camps throughout the country.
Campers who wanted to get close to nature -- but not too close -- loved fold-out tent trailers. These two-wheelers folded down for easy towing by day and then mushroomed into miniature homes at night. Story has it that Warren and Ray Gilkison designed and built their first tent trailer in their father's machine shop for a family camping trip.
The growth of automobile ownership and development of good roads drove more Americans to explore the country in the 1920s. Motor Camper and Tourist offered advice on how and where to go. This November 1925 issue, with its idyllic view of camping on the cover, offered a number of articles, advice, and product advertisements on motor camping.
The Gilkie trailer, according to this promotional brochure, freed travelers from their worries. Families could travel -- and stop -- wherever they pleased without fretting about the quality or availability of hotels. The trailer's compact folded design made for easy driving too. Its low profile reduced wind resistance and didn't block the rear window.