Vintage Camper History

More popular than ever, vintage camper trailers appeal to both young and old alike. There are many styles to choose from, including teardrop, pop-up, folding, and airstream. Vintage house trailers, built in either plywood, aluminium and fiberglass, were once built only by skilled tradesmen, but modern mass production methods have made campers less expensive and more obtainable than ever.

vintage camper history

The main selling point of house trailers, also referred to as caravans, was the affordable price, appealing mainly to middle class families. They now had the option to drive to other U.S. states or European towns they had never been to, as other travel methods were too expensive.

Origins Of The Travel Trailer

Praised as one of the most revolutionary eras in history in terms of technology, the 1930s paved the way for many of the inventions we use on a regular basis, and would more than likely be lost without. Progressing from small discoveries, like the chocolate-chip cookie to larger life-changing creations including the polygraph machine, the photocopier and the beloved Volkswagen Beetle, the thirties were responsible for the conception of a number of great technological ideas that are still used today.

classic Volkswagen Beetle

Modes of transport, in particular, began to improve in the 1930s and travel was expected to be nothing less than luxurious and stylish. Leaving behind the traditional horse and wagon, the upgraded motorcars and street cars of the thirties became a necessity for every household. Whether they were used for leisurely drives or for business travels, the 1930s vehicles offered a form of escape, especially during the Great Depression, which affected the United States and Europe greatly.

vintage camper history

Vintage Camper Trailers

The Family holidays and road trips also became more valued during this time, which saw people owning more camper trailers than ever before. They offered families a home away from home and the choice to venture out for a beachside vacation or camping retreat with easy accessibility. Although camper travel meant pitching on road sides and traveling for long hours, it proved to be very cost-effective and a much more personal journey than on a train or plane.

The teardrop, or "canned ham" style of camper, started appearing in the United States in the 1930s. With curved metal roofs and pop-out back windows, teardrop trailers were ideal for one or two campers. Being lightweight and compact, special vehicles were not required to tow them. Their popularity rose significantly following World War II.

vintage camper history

Post World-War-Two Camper Boom

After World-War-Two, people realized how much easier and cheaper it was to travel with a house trailer, and soon trailer sites started to appear in the countryside and parks.

Roadway systems had improved, and campers were modestly priced. Travel trailers led to a new means of recreation for young, post-war families. Names like Airstream, Shasta and DeVille became symbols of post-WW2 success.

Vintage Trailer Brands

In the early 1930s, there were less than 50 manufacturers in the United States. By the end of the 1930s, more than 400 companies marketed travel trailers.

Aside from the well-known favorites, such as Airstream and Shasta, there is also Aristocrat, Avion, Aloha, Benroy, Bowlus, Dalton, DeVille, Franklin, Kamp Master, Kenskill, Redman, Silver Streak, Spartan, Terry, and many others.

British Caravans

Caravans in the thirties, with their aerodynamic streamlined design and modern features, revolutionized the much-loved people-carrier. It brought up standards that were not far off from the models in the 21st century. One of the most popular British models of the 1930s was the Car Cruiser Rally Four De-Luxe, a model that was well ahead of its time in terms of its design: it had a more lightweight build than older designs while remaining very spacious and home-like.

The Eccles Senator and Imperial models (and later its famous National Caravan following WW2) were British favorites; they had similar features to the Car Cruiser model and were equally lightweight. With the introduction of glass-reinforced plastic in the fifties (more commonly known as fiberglass), construction became less costly and the trailers became lighter. Winchester, the luxury caravan manufacturer, won over buyers with their custom-made caravans, which were tailored to the customer's exact specifications.

Several vintage British camper trailers you might still see peddling along today include Eccles, Sprite, and Ace. All have gone out of manufacture. Check out this page from Salop Leisure for an illustrated history of the British caravan.

Camper Trailers Today

More popular than ever, travel trailers are still a great choice for camping retreats and cross-country road trips. They are also a fun way to bond with family, offering a home on wheels and the promise of new adventures, not to mention saving money on hotel or accommodation costs.

vintage camper history

A creative businessman in Wake Forest, North Carolina, turned this old travel trailer into a mobile store for his cupcake company.

Hauling A Travel Trailer

Pulling a travel trailer has a profound effect on how the tow vehicle handles. When a camper is hooked to your car, the car is not only a load-carrying vehicle, it is also a load-pulling vehicle. This places more demand on your vehicle's braking, steering, cooling, and lighting systems, and greater safety must be exercised. Nearly all trailer tires on all but the largest travel trailers have a maximum speed rating of just 65 MPH.

vintage camper history

In the US, each state has it's own requirements for pulling and hauling trailers. Equipment such as hitches and safety chains need to be compliant. Check with your state and local laws before you travel.

Read: Classic Trucks

vintage camper history

Vintage Trailer Market

With a limited supply and growing demand, trailer values are rising. Unfortunately, the vintage camper market does not have a 'bluebook' to reference trailer values like cars, trucks, and motorcycles do.