Airstream is the original inventor of the recreational vehicle (RV) and is a brand well known around the world. Airstream has roots all the way back to the 1920s when company founder Wally Byam began constructing trailers out of Masonite in the backyard of his Los Angeles home.
Airstream Quick Facts
- Aluminum-skinned body based on airplane fuselage
- Rounded corners of body improve gas mileage
- Aerodynamic design cuts down drag by 20% verse box style trailers
- It takes 280 human hours to build an Airstream
- Airstream was the first full self-contained travel trailer
- Every model is tested under 100 pounds of pressure for water-tightness
- Airstream is the oldest manufacturer of recreational vehicles in the US
Read below for a more detailed look at the history of Airstream.
The Foundation and Early Days
The first unofficial Airstream trailer was built in 1929 when Wally combined a tent with a Model T Chassis. This first model was a start but leaked too much for extended use.
A teardrop shaped shelter was added along with an ice chest and kerosene stove.
Easily towed with a car this first RV was the envy of many travelers and led to Wally making and selling how to kits to customers. This Popular Mechanics guide was successful. Additionally Byam began to make trailers for neighbors and other people in his home shop. When this location proved to be inadequate he rented a small building in Culver City, California in 1931. The first model made in this factory was the Airstream Torpedo Car Cruiser which sold over one thousand in just a year. The Car Cruiser was followed up by the Silver Bullet and the Silver Cloud.
The RV business began to grow and over 400 companies were competing in the space by 1937. However the Great Depression and World War II brought on many challenges and all but Airstream folded during that time. During WWII Byam was working at Curtiss-Wright to help produce airplanes for the war effort. This experience and influence would lead to the improvement of later Airstream models including the iconic fuselage design.
RV Iterations and the Passing of Wally Byam
After the war, several trips across both America and Europe led to several design and sustainability changes to Airstream travel trailers. This also included large Caravan models along with the expansion of Airstream in both size and scope. Other changes including a hot water system developed in 1957 made these camping trailers fully self-contained campers.
Wally Byam passed in 1962 and Art Costello took over. In the late 60s Airstream went over a huge design change focusing on a more luxurious look and feel. This included rounder edges, more streamlined end and more conformable interior. In 1969 Airstream was also well publicized for making a quarantine unit to house NASA astronauts after they returned from Apollo missions.
The 1970s marked more changes for Airstream including the important introduction of Argosy motorhomes. Although they would only last 5 years, they are the beginning of what spawned the Land yacht Class A Coach and Interstate Touring Camper Van.
Airstream through the 80s, 90s and Today
Airstream continued to iterate and develop new iconic products. This has led to not only the iconic design by vintage collectability among the used trailer market place. The outer Airstream shell is highly sought after by enthusiasts for restorations, renovations and custom livable RVs.
Today Airstream makes the popular Class B Interstate and Interstate EXT Touring Coach Camper Van along with the following Travel Trailers.
- Flying Cloud
- International Sterling
- International Signature
- International Serenity
- Eddie Bauer
- Land Yacht
Be sure to visit the Official Airstream Website @ Airstream.com for more facts, figures and information about the company and their wide range of RVs, trailers and touring coaches.