The 1930s Travel Trailer Camping Craze

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.


Filed under Camping and Hiking, Vintage Travel

14 responses to “The 1930s Travel Trailer Camping Craze

  1. They look extremely well equipped and glamorous I must say! Thanks for sharing your knowledge and those great advertising images.

    In England, it was the caravan holiday that really took off in popularity during the early party of the 20th Century. Like you say, people would throw together all sorts of homemade wonders – most of them shaped like boxes though!!! Then travel companies emerged and brought us the ‘package holiday’ so travelling to Europe (staying in hotels), became the choice for many. And Spain has never been the same again!!!

    Camping has regained popularity in the UK although I doubt it will ever be quite so glamorous as it was back in the 30s.


    • That’s interesting. The caravan craze in England was well established long before the USA trailer craze of the 30s. Weren’t they popular even before automobiles? According to the book I mentioned, the caravans were losing popularity in England as the trailers were catching on in the US. Boy, but we were behind the times!


  2. Actually yes, I think they were popular before automobiles. I recall watching a TV documentary some months back, about the history of camping in the UK. It included some very old footage of folks going away on holiday in what I can only describe as garden sheds on wheels! 🙂


  3. Susan B Carlson

    I want you to know how much I thoroughly enjoy The Vintage Traveler. I am very partial to collectible clothes and fashion, but have eagerly awaited your articles on everything! I post all The Vintage Traveler articles to my facebook page because I like to share a good thing! A great big thank you!


  4. Susan B Carlson

    Weren’t the caravans modelled after the Gypsy caravans that went through Europe for centuries?


  5. Em

    What a treat! Enjoyed all of the research and the images you have compiled, especially the last link. To other readers, make sure you click on the last link as you will also see some lovely folks in gorgeous outfits.


  6. Thank you for this intresting article, as you are intrested in preserving and enjoying vintage clothing I am intrested in aquiring,selling and preserving vintage caravans

    i am inSouthern California 25 mles west of Palm springs and am also intrested in connecting with others who have the same intrest
    Vintage caravans also can be made into great retail selling spaces


  7. Pingback: 1930s / Depression Era

  8. Pingback: 1930s Camper Trailer from the Smithsonian « delusionsofminiature

  9. Annita Wolfe

    Vintage trailers are my new passion. Recently widows, I am looking for my little trailer.


  10. Pingback: Detroit Firemen’s Field Day Tickets – A Historical Perspective – 1922 to Pre World War II |

  11. One thing to consider is that back then, there were no modern conveniences, such as automatic dishwashers, microwaves, not even answering machines. It was a necessity for a woman to stay at home and take care of the home. It truly was a full time job without the modern conveniences of today. I have been married since 1980, and I never got the chance to be a stay at home wife. I personally relish the idea, but necessity truly is the mother of invention. We have cell phones now, microwaves, dishwashers, answering machines, dvd players, mostly out of necessity, as people can no longer afford to have one person stay at home. If no one is home, there is no one to answer the phone or do things the old fashioned way. Without modern conveniences, women could have never progressed as far as they have. The inventors of all these conveniences deserve a huge thank you. I still am not sure if children are better off though.


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