Airstream is a brand of luxury
recreational vehiclemanufactured in Jackson Center, Ohio, USA. The company, which employs approximately 400, is the oldest in the industry. Airstream trailers are easily recognized for their distinctive rounded aluminum bodies, which originated in the 1930s from designs largely created by Hawley Bowlus. Bowlus was the chief designer of Charles Lindbergh's aircraft, the " Spirit of St. Louis".
The company was founded by
Wally Byam, who began building Masonitetrailers in his backyard in Los Angelesduring the late 1920s. Byam, a lawyer by training, published a magazine selling "how-to" kits to customers wishing to build their own trailers. He then acquired the struggling Bowlus Company. In 1936 Byam introduced the "Airstream Clipper", which was essentially a rebadged 1935 Bowlus, with the door relocated. The design cut down on wind resistanceand thus improved gas mileage. It was the first of the now familiar sausage-shaped, silver aluminum Airstream trailer. Of more than 400 trailer builders operating in 1936, Airstream was the only one to survive the Depression. During World War II, travel became a luxury most could not afford and non-military industries faced an acute aluminum shortage. When World War II ended, the economy boomed, and people's attention once again turned towards leisure travel. Byam's company went back into production in 1948. In July 1952 a new facility in Jackson Center, Ohio, was established. 1979 saw the last Airstreams to be manufactured in California.
In 1974 Airstream began manufacturing a Class A
motorhome, badged "Argosy". These began as painted aluminum 20- and 24-foot (6.1 and 7.3 m) models, and were followed in 1979 by the first of their Classic model motorhomes, with an unpainted aluminum body, much like the trailers.
Airstream-badged Class A motorhomes began as 24 and 28-foot (7.3 and 8.5-m) models in 1979, and in the '80s and '90s, models ranging from 25 up to 37 feet (7.6 up to 11.2 m) were marketed. The aluminum motorhomes were followed by more traditional-looking
fiberglassmodels in the '90s. Airstream discontinued manufacture of Class A motorhomes in 2006. A recent bus model, the Skydeck, featured interior stairs leading to a deck on the roof.
Starting in 1989, Airstream built Class B motorhomes based on the
Ford Econolinechassis and the Dodge B-series vanchassis. Production ceased after the 1999 model year. In 2004, Airstream introduced the Westfalia and Interstate. The Parkway model, based on the Interstate, was introduced in 2006. All models are built on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinterchassis. The Westfalia was discontinued in 2006 as was the Parkway model.
Airstream, still based in Jackson Center, is owned by Thor, Inc. The company presently manufactures approximately 2,000 trailers and motorhomes per year. Currently, Airstream produces several models: Sport, Flying Cloud, DWR (Design Within Reach), International and Classic Limited. Trailer sizes can range between 16 ft to 34 ft (4.9 to 10.3 m). Slide out models are available in the 30 ft (9.1 m) and 34 ft (10.3 m) Classic Limited. Airstream also manufactures 3 models for the European market.
Airstreamers are a group of RVers who share a community spirit because of their mutual love of the trailers. In the early 1950s, Airstream company founder Wally Byam began leading groups of owners on travels to many portions of the world, where the towed trailers were quite remarkable. Photos taken of the trailers in front of many famous tourist sites were common. This promoted a mystique which surrounded Airstreams and persists to this day.
The Wally Byam Caravan Club was formed during the 1955 rally in Kentville, Nova Scotia, Canada. Later, the word "International" was added to the club name, resulting in the acronym "WBCCI" and more commonly known as the "Wally Club". On
August 17, 2005, a commemorative plaque was dedicated on the site. Club members join together for one large International Rally each summer (which by club rules always includes the dates of July 1and July 4), and hundreds of smaller local rallies are held coast-to-coast by "units" (chapters). Airstreams are more popular than ever, and restoration of older models is a passion shared by many.
There are about a dozen Airstream parks throughout the United States. These are RV resorts or campgrounds where owners of Airstream-manufactured units are allowed to buy, rent or lease a site. Some of these facilities welcome non-Airstream products, while others are more strict in their admission. Some of the parks require membership in the WBCCI to be admitted. Several of the resorts are owned and operated by the local unit of the WBCCI.
In 1969, upon their return from the Moon,
Neil Armstrongand the crew of Apollo 11were quarantined in a modified airtight Airstream trailer, until it could be determined that there was little likelihood of their having brought back "lunar pathogens" with them.
NASAhas used a fleet of Airstream motorhomes to transport astronautsto the launch pad.
United States Air Force
Airstream trailers are commonly used to transport American officials around the world. The trailers are strapped down inside a military cargo plane (typically a
C-17 Globemaster III) [http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2007/04/14/automobiles/20070415_AIRSTREAM_SLIDESHOW_4.html] .
* [http://www.airstream.com/ Airstream Company Website]
* [http://www.wbcci.org/ WBCCI]
* [http://www.airstream.net/index.html Vintage Airstream Club]
* [http://www.airforums.com/ AIRForums]
* [http://www.airstreamlife.com/ Airstream Life magazine]
* [http://www.airstreamtrailers.com Airstream Trailer Link Library]
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.