As RV show season gets into full swing, you may find yourself blown away by incredible new features and spectacular technology that you never thought you’d see in an RV! As technology advances, RVs only get better, with a variety of layouts and luxuries for any style or budget! But how did the history of the RV start out? What were the first RVs like, and how did we get to the opulent RVs we enjoy today? Read on to find out how RVs went from “Tin Can Tourist” to luxury homes on wheels!
Travel Before RVs
Modern RVs have been around for a little over 100 years now, but camping has been an enjoyable pastime for much longer than that, whether out of necessity or for fun! Tent camping has been around for centuries, but the advent of the covered caravan set the stage for the modern RV as we know it! Wanderers, entertainers, and other nomadic groups used caravans, or covered wagons, that were outfitted with beds and other comfortable homelike touches to stay comfortable as they moved around from place to place! Before the convenience of RVs came about, adventurers could camp in rail cars pulled onto otherwise unused sidings, which sounds like a fun adventure, but not quite as convenient as RVing! Things were about to get a lot easier!
The First RV—1910
From the time that automobiles were invented, creative minds have been altering them into custom builds, so it was only a matter of time before the likes of an RV came into play! The first RV is considered to be the Pierce-Arrow Touring Landau. It featured a folding back seat that transformed into a bed, plumbing that included a toilet and a sink, and even a phone all incorporated on a classic car chassis! It is considered not only the first motorized, commercial RV, but it was also the start of the RV industry and it paved the way for other motorized RVs and travel trailers to be produced over the next few years!
Tin Can Tourists—1919-1930s
As RVs became more popular, groups of camping enthusiasts formed to share their love of adventure! The Tin Can Tourists formed the first organized camping club in the U.S., with its first official rally in 1919! Named for their standard cooking style of heating tin cans over gas stoves, these RVers took RVing to new heights, traveling all over the country to new locations and adventuring from state to state throughout the 1920s and 1930s, all before transcontinental roads were developed! This established that camping could be fun, adventurous, and wonderfully comfortable in an RV, and the Tin Can Tourists organization still exists today as a vintage RV club that holds events and rallies, just like RV enthusiasts before them!
This time period wasn’t all fun and adventure for many, though. The Great Depression hit many people hard, and while few enjoyed the luxury of traveling for fun, the RV industry saw some interesting early instances of full-time RVing, with some opting for a less expensive RV than a house they could no longer afford. Fortunately, the 1930s began to see more comfortable amenities in RVs, including such residential comforts like dinettes, beds, electricity, and plumbing, as well as a popular aircraft-style construction!
Wartime and Beyond—1940s
World War II put a halt on most RV production, as resources became more scarce and the country was focused on working hard to keep up with the demand of the fight overseas. Some RV companies used this opportunity to find a niche market, producing RVs to be used as mobile hospitals, transport for prisoners, morgues, or housing for new recruits and their families!
As the war came to a close, things looked up for the RV industry as returning G.I.s sought out inexpensive ways to travel with their families for vacations, and RVs were their choice! The new and expanding interstate highway system was making faraway locations more accessible than ever, so many were taking advantage of the comfortable and fun tradition of RV camping for adventures to otherwise difficult to reach (and afford) destinations!
As demand for RVs grew on the upswing of the late 1940s, a lot of stylistic changes and preferences emerged as a result into the 1950s! Travel trailers had been the preferred RV type, but motorhomes started to gain popularity in the 1950s! These were still less popular than travel trailers, and were considered to be more of a luxury item!
RVs really transformed in the 1950s, as the overall length began to get longer, and modern conveniences like kitchens, multiple bedrooms, reliable plumbing, upstairs/downstairs layouts, carpeting, and even TVs were included in some upscale luxury models! Even the exterior design transformed, with more appealing aerodynamic fronts and decorative and unique designs! More companies began to jump on board with creating innovative RVs, and many of these companies are still around today, producing some of the best RVs out there!
Lasting Industry Standards—1960s-Today
As the economy continued to gain strength and technology continued to advance, RVs only gained more popularity into the 1960s! Still-thriving companies like Winnebago came swinging into the market and started mass producing motorhomes for as little as $5,000 a unit, creating a lasting reputation! Evolving technologies like RV refrigerators made RV travel more convenient than ever, taking them from fun getaway vehicles to homes that you can take virtually anywhere!
Even today, technologies keep evolving, construction finds ways to improve, and features get more comfortable, keeping new buyers interested and longtime travelers seeking upgrades! Over the past 100 years that RVs have been evolving, they have been as innovative as the times have allowed for! Today, luxuries like hardwood cabinets, full cooking appliances, residential furniture, app-controlled systems, and top-of-the-line entertainment systems make RVs feel like traveling palaces, and are a stark contrast from the RV's humble origins!
Where will the next 100 years take the RV industry? We can’t be certain, but TradeWinds RV Center will be there to provide you with the best! What is your favorite classic RV? Leave us a comment with any interesting vintage RV facts!