The Ultimate Guide to RV History

Rv camping in the USA, parked beside a lake.

Consider Yourself an RV Expert? Test Your Knowledge With This RV History Guide

RVing is one of America’s favorite pastimes, but it’s so much more than that. In fact, there’s a lot about RV history you probably don’t know- and the facts might even surprise you.

RV camping in the USA is a big industry, with millions of dollars spent every year on vehicles, supplies, equipment, and campground reservations.

So many people love RV camping, but where did the idea come from?

We’ve already told you all about the history of camping. Now, we’re going to give you a short history of RVing to really put your trivia skills to work.

Here’s a short and sweet RV history to make you want to get out there and explore the country.

 

The first camper trailer was made in 1910.

Where it all Began: The First Camper Ever Made

According to RV historian David Woodworth, one of the main reasons the RV industry began was because people were becoming frustrated with the limitations of taking the railway system.

The first camper ever made was a very basic contraption, and it looked more like a basic car than the luxurious houses-on-wheels we’re used to seeing now.

Many of the campers built before 1910 were just one-off units that resembled modified cars.

People were making alterations to their cars in order to go car camping, which had already become a beloved pastime for many Americans. The Ford Model T formed the basis for these altered contraptions, and remained so until more cars came on the market.

 

RV hooked up at campground. The history of camping in RVs.

1910: The Birth of the RV Industry

Many historians credit 1910 as the year that the RV industry was born.

That’s because the first motorized RV camper was made in this year. Even though there were some models built before then, it wasn’t until 1910 that they became available for commercial sale. That’s when they started coming off the assembly line and being assembled in larger quantities.

The first RV in 1910 was the Pierce-Arrow Touring Landau, which was debuted at Madison Square Garden. It included a back seat that folded down into a bed and a fold-down sink.

After that, beginning in the same year, Los Angeles Trailer Works and Auto-Kamp Trailers began commercial production of their own RVs. Soon, dozens of other companies were beginning to make their own models.

While these first RV models were far from luxurious, they offered people something they had desperately wanted: the freedom to travel anywhere, at their own leisure.

One of the most notable features that these original motorized campers didn’t have? Washrooms. At this point, the closest bush was the most viable option.

 

Large RV Rig. Great RV trips began in with the Tin Can Tourists.

The Tin Can Tourists

Many RVers today belong to a wide range of RV clubs and organizations, such as the Good Sam Club. The origin of these clubs dates back to one prominent organization from the 1920s: The Tin Can Tourists.

Well before most major highways and transcontinental roads were paved, the Tin Can Tourists traveled across the country in their modified Tin Lizzies (Ford Model T cars). They had basically turned their cars into homes on wheels, with the ability to sleep wherever they parked.

Tin Can Tourists camped in their RVs on the side of the roads, heating food from tin cans on gas stoves for dinner.

The organization began with an initial rally in Florida in 1919, and by the 1930s, there were 150,000 members. It became such a big deal that they even had their own handshake, official song, and initiation process.

A tin can was even soldered onto the radiator cap of each member’s car so that they could easily recognize one another on the road.

 

Volkswagen camper van. The history of camping includes camper trailers.

The Rise of RV Camping in the USA

As time went on, more people caught on to the idea of RVing.

One famous group of RVers you might have heard of were the Vagabonds. The group included Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Harvey Firestone, and John Burroughs.

These 4 notable men went on a yearly trip regularly from 1913 to 1924, where they traveled in cars and camped in tents. However, they also had a modified Lincoln truck that had a camp kitchen in it. Their journey sparked a national interest in RVing and camping because they were covered by the media regularly.

During World War II, RVing took a backseat to the more pressing concerns of the cost of war. However, after the war ended, the RV industry flourished again. More Americans wanted freedom to travel, and many young families wanted more inexpensive ways to go on vacation.

The Airstream, one of the most recognizable RVs today, took its first ride in 1929. It began as a contraption built over a Model T, but was soon shifted to the iconic teardrop shaped trailer. In 1932 Airstream trailers were being sold commercially.

After the 1930s, RVs began to feature some of the amenities we’re used to now: beds, dining areas, electricity, and water.

By the 1950s and 1960s, many of the big RV manufacturers of today were in business, making new and more advanced models regularly.

In 1967, the Winnebago was produced as “America’s first motorhome.” This mass-produced, widely popular RV came in multiple different models and featured many of the standards most motorhomes have today, like the folding dinette. And the best part was that it was affordable, unlike many of the higher end RVs at the time.

Companies like Airstream and Winnebago are still producing vehicles today, making newer and better versions all the time.

 

Family Enjoying RV Living in America.

Luxury RVing: Making Today’s Great RV Trips Even Better

Today, there are so many RVs and camper trailers on the market that would make those original tin can tourists’ jaws drop.

The rise of glampingluxurious camping– has introduced a world of new technologies and developments to make RVs feel like portable houses. Now, you can get RVs that include flat-screen TVs and WiFi.

In fact, did you know that the most expensive RV in the world costs $3 million? It’s the eleMMent Palazzo, made by Marchi Mobile, and it’s basically a mansion on wheels. What do you get for $3 million dollars? A retractable rooftop deck, an extendable interior that gives you up to 430 square feet of space, and a fireplace.

 

The history of camping began with trailers and modified cars.

From Full-Time RVing to Family Camping Trips

The average RV owner does not own a $3 million camper. In fact, many Americans would rather just buy a used RV and hit the road. But that doesn’t mean that a huge chunk of our population doesn’t regularly enjoy a good road trip.

Here are some fun facts about RVing in the USA today:

  • Approximately 8.2 million households in America own RVs
  • The average RVer travels about 4,500 miles per year
  • Most RVers spend about 28-35 days on the road each year
  • About 450,000 of those travelers are full-time RVers

There are many people in the country who live full-time in their RV, traveling from destination to destination. Additionally, there are others who spend months at a time living in RV parks on a seasonal basis.

While we don’t all have that wanderlust to live completely on the road, RVing is a great way for a family to enjoy a less expensive vacation. So where will your next destination be?

 

RVs lined up in the park ready for RVing across America.

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This entry was posted in Camping, Outdoors, RVing.