The 1930s saw the rise of an odd phenomena considering the the world was in the grips of an economic disaster. In 1930 Arthur Sherman started manufacturing travel trailers. You would think that the Great Depression was a poor time to start a business, but Sherman’s Covered Wagon Company was wildly successful.
People had been auto camping for years, and saw it as an economic alternative to traditional travel where there were train fares and hotel bills. Times might have been tough, but people saw camping as a way to continue travel. Many travel trailers were homemade, and even a manufactured one could be bought for as little as $300 (about $4700 today). Trailers were sold by the thousands.
The press was partially responsible for the trailer boom. Magazines from Popular Mechanics to Woman’s Home Companion heaped praise upon the benefits of trailer camping. Bouyed by all the hype, the trailer companies over-produced in 1937, which led to disaster for many of them, including Covered Wagon. The market was saturated, and the slow economic recovery was halted by a series of strikes in the auto industry. Many of the companies barely made it to 1942, when the US military began buying travel trailers to use as military housing.
At the same time, many trailer owners were forced to park them for the duration, forming trailer parks that were more like permanent addresses. And after the war, many young families turned to travel trailers in an effort to find housing. Trailers were still built as a travel home, but just barely. This was shown in the 1953 Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez comedy, The Long, Long Trailer. By the next year companies started making the trailers wider – 10 feet, and it soon became obvious that the trailer industry was diverging. Travel trailers remained small, but house trailers, or mobile homes grew and grew.
Considering how many of these were made in the 1930s, they are not commonly seen today. I know where a couple of them are parked, and I’m betting they have been there since the 1940s. Most of the vintage travel trailers we see today are from the late 1950s and newer. To learn more about vintage travel trailers, there is a great book, Ready to Roll, by Arrol Geller and Douglas Keister.
Today’s illustrations are from a 1936 Covered Wagon catalog.
Here’s an old post I did with an inside view of a 1940s trailer.
And finally, a not-to-be-missed photo essay from Life magazine.