Celebrating the RV: A Great American Innovation

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Celebrating the RV: A Great American Innovation

In the early 1900s, America’s frontier spirit was still everywhere to be found. Homes on the hard edge of nature weren’t enough for us; we had to invent the RV to really blur the line between homesteading and exploration.

There’s always something impressive about an RV, but when you look back over the last century, you see how far the industry has come. They’re innovative by nature, and yet their evolution and amazing future are truly something worth exploring. Were you aware of the incredible roots of the earliest RVs? Let’s discover those and a lot more!

RVs existed before the highway system

Before 1910, the RV experience was literally on rails: those looking for a home away from home could spend time in private rail cars beside train routes. The experience as we know it didn’t take real shape until Pierce-Arrow debuted the first RV, the Touring Landau, in 1910. It cost $8,250 ($219,615 today) and boasted a back seat which became a bed, a sink, a chamber pot toilet, and a phone connecting the driver to the passengers.

As American roads improved in availability and quality, RVs were right behind. They were better known back then by the names “camping trailers” and “auto campers” and were soon being produced by companies like Auto-Kamp Trailers and Los Angeles Trailer works. Some notable models of the period were:

  • The 1913 Earl. The oldest surviving RV ancestor. It had a double bed, a 4-seater dining table and the all-important storage space. You can step inside with this video tour.
  • The 1936 Curtiss Aerocar. Streamlined and sleek, the Aerocar was an early example of the fifth-wheel trailer. The plush interior even sported net storage which is still very practical today.
  • The 1937 Ford Housecar. Very few of these were made per year in the 1930s. A metal skin was wrapped around a body of solid oak which contained a cozy interior with a bed, tables chairs, and generous storage.

One of the golden age RVs was…a tree?

You’ve heard of a travelogue. Now meet the Travel Log. Charles Kellogg merits special mention for turning an 8-ton (16,000 lbs.), 22-foot Redwood log into the world’s first motor home way back in 1917. Kellogg was a man of many talents who created his timber-tastic RV to travel nationwide alerting the public to the endangerment of California’s beautiful Redwood forests.

The finished RV weighed 3 tons and contained a kitchenette, toilet, 12 lockers, guest room, dining table, and bookcase. It’s one of a kind to this day and still open to visitors.

The boom time for RVs

This Hall of Fame shows some great examples of the rise of the RV through the 1950s and 1960s. This was an aerodynamic period when residential appliances really started appearing inside trailers, transforming them into real mobile homes. It was a visionary period. If we offered you an RV that was 65 feet long, had two bathrooms and a 21-inch TV, we bet you’d consider it!

Those stats belong to 1952’s Executive Flagship which was followed near the close of the decade by Shasta trailers. They would go on to become the most popular travel trailer of their era. The 1960s were when RVs became truly iconic. Fiberglass bodies made RVs even more aerodynamic, and motor homes appeared with foldaway beds and sliding windows.

Winnebago launched in 1966 and sold over 20,000 units by the end of the decade. Outdoorsy gives a neat little summary of some notable 1970’s models including the Argosy and the Volkswagen Westfalia. Heading into the 1980s, the Fleetwood Bounder was a very popular family RV which gained some notoriety thanks to TV’s “Breaking Bad.”

A lot is going for the Bounder. Plenty of storage and a comfy interior accompanied a stove and oven, microwave, fridge/freezer, bath, and toilet. You can take a virtual tour of this classic and see why they’re popular as used models today (even if the owner thinks it’s a ’98!)

The 21st century’s additions to history

Since we’re noting down the milestones in RV history, we should mention how incredible a modern rig can be. Consider the EleMMent Palazzo Superior: a nearly $3 million groundbreaker containing a master bedroom, expandable roof deck, 40-inch TV and a wine rack. It’s one of the sleekest we’ve ever seen and shows just how far RVs have come in 100 years.

We hope you enjoyed our journey through time. If you always want to be up to date on the modern RV lifestyle, join up with us today and be part of our community!

The RV Advisor is proud to provide our thousands of members with practical wisdom for life on the road. We cover everything from buying new or used, roadside assistance and where to stop and shop. You can drop by our home page for a live chat, email us at or call 833-229-0911.

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