Travel trailers hit the road in large numbers beginning in the late 1930s when paved roadways allowed tourists more options for travel and trailer innovations expanded the number of manufacturing companies. The earliest trailer options were do-it-yourself models made from mail-order designs. In the early 1930s, less than 50 manufacturers operated in the United States and by the end of the decade, more than 400 companies made and marketed trailers pulled by cars. These vintage American-manufactured trailers today attract collectors throughout the world.
Airstream is the most well known retro travel trailer, and one of the reasons for the easy identification rests with the fact the company continues to produce the iconic metal travel trailers. The Airstream Trailer Company began operation in 1932 from humble construction starts including placing an ordinary canvas tent on wheels. Airstream trailer innovations, featuring the first water heater system manufactured for the Airstreams in 1954 and an innovative toilet waste system using stream pressure in 1961, added to the trailer travel appeal.
The Airfloat Coach Company began operation in 1930 from a manufacturing location in Pasadena, California, and moved in 1935 to a plant in downtown Los Angeles. Company owner Omar Suttles helped organize manufacturers into the Trailer Coach Manufacturer's Association, a trailer trade organization. Airfloat patented the roof ventilation system, third-wheel and a double exit door. Models include the Commodore, Presidential Landyacht and the Skipper. Airfloat shuttered the doors on the factory in 1957.
Spartan All-Aluminum Trailercoaches
The Spartan Aircraft All-Aluminum Trailcoach, the brainchild of oil magnate J. Paul Getty, started as an aircraft production firm in 1928 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and shifted to trailer production in 1946. The company halted production in 1962. Collectible models include the Crescendo, Carousel, and the luxurious flagship of production, the Spartan Executive.
Franklin Coach Company
The Franklin Coach Company made travel trailers at a plant in Nappanee, Indiana. The first coaches rolled off the Franklin production lines in 1945 and the company closed down operations after 2005. The current models include the Royal Cathedral and the Royal Executive. Vintage models include the Ranch Wagon.
Redman Trailer Company
The Redman Trailer Company began production in 1930 and continued in the market until morphing into the manufactured home builder Redman Industries. New Moon Homes operated as a separate arm of the travel trailer company beginning in 1953, taking the name of a popular trailer model of that decade. Other collectible trailer models include the Corinth.
Serro Travel Trailer Company
The Serro Travel Trailer Company, founded by John Serro in Irwin, Pennsylvania, in 1956, encouraged travel by trailer by founding the Scotty Club trailer rallies. Serro opened the Scottyland Campground in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, that served as an exclusive camp for Scotties. Scotty caravanning, including an epic journey by 54 trailers to Nova Scotia, soon followed. Scotty colors, blue and white, were standard from 1964 through 1978, when other colors were added. The company fell on hard times in the early 1980s and the classic trailers ceased production. Trailers using the Scotty name, without Serro, were later manufactured units.
- Airstream: History, Parts 1-4
- Spartan Aircraft All-Aluminum Trailercoaches: History
- Texas State Historical Association: Redman Homes
- SerroScotty: Scotty History
- "Trailer Travel: A Visual History of Mobile America"; Phil Noyes, Bryan Burkhart & Allison Arieff; Gibbs Smith; 2002
Lee Grayson has worked as a freelance writer since 2000. Her articles have appeared in publications for Oxford and Harvard University presses and research publishers, including Facts On File and ABC-CLIO. Grayson holds certificates from the University of California campuses at Irvine and San Diego.