Ok – hands up – I don’t like caravans. They tend to be ugly and baulk the free flow of traffic. If you could chose to have an away day at the seaside regardless of the weather why would you chose to stay in a fibre-glass shed with limited ventilation and the ever present aroma of a chemical toilet?
On the other hand, with a face clad in a pair of classic Ray-bans Ray-Ban Wayfarers you’d be more than happy to freeze at a windy beach, shrink your intimate regions to the size of raisins to catch some great waves, if you knew at the end of the day your temporary home was a warm aluminium-shelled beach cabin with every mod-con!
Yes, the Airstream trailer – American for “caravan” – is less a motorway frustrator and more a cigar tube with benefits!
Company founder, Wally Byam, in Los Angeles in the late 1920’s, started to build and market trailers. Airstream’s distinctive shape, with its curved, riveted and polished aluminium body, has its roots in aircraft building and the 1930’s designs of Hawley Bowlus, the engineer responsible for Lindburgh’s “Spirit of St. Louis”. Bowlus designed a trailer that Byam marketed and in 1936 he acquired the Bowlus company which included the trailer re-launched by Byam as the “Airstream Clipper”. It had a sleeping capacity for four, its own water supply and electric lights and cost $1200.
Closed during the war years due to the scarcity of raw materials, by 1948 Byam’s was back in business opening a new factory in Jackson Center, Ohio in 1952, where today the company, now a part of Thor Industries Inc. employs more than 475 people and manufactures more than 2000 trailers per year.
Interestingly, Airstream make European models that are slightly smaller in dimensions than their US versions as European roads tend to be narrower and the SUV vehicles used to tow their trailers tend to be less powerful.
In many ways Airstream is one of those companies whose reach is beyond their brand and a stimulus to development of a sub-culture. The Wally Byam Caravan Club International – which he founded and led – helped to stretch the horizons of its members by seeking out parts of new and fascinating locations.
Perhaps the iconic status of the Airstream can be best summed up in the words of Geoff Wardle, Chair of Transportation Design at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design, who is quoted a having said, “The Airstream is a pure object, which is why it has lasted.”