10 Fun Facts About Airstream
A look back at the history of an American icon.
Photography Courtesy of Airstream
Airstream is truly an American icon and one that produces a product that is instantly recognizable worldwide. Born out of one family's desire to experience the great outdoors, Airstream was founded by American entrepreneur Wally Byam in the early 1930s. The company survived the Great Depression, World War II, the Middle East gas crisis, and several economic recessions. It's truly a remarkable story, and one worth reading about if you have time. For now let's take a look at what we find to be ten of the most interesting fun facts about the history of Airstream.
And a special thank-you to Airstream for use of the historic photos. Check out the company's website to see more about the history of Airstream.
Airstream Founder Wally Byam Was the Original Overlander
Wally and his first wife, Marion, liked to go camping. However, she hated sleeping on the ground. So, in 1929 Wally fitted a tent on top of a Model T chassis. It was a chore to put together and not so much fun in the rain, but it was a start.
Airstream Was Founded in 1931 - Sort Of
After the wife got tired of the tent he constructed and he built his own travel trailer, Wally's plans were published in Popular Mechanics. Soon neighbors were asking if he'd build them one, and even quicker after that noise complaints from the neighbors started rolling in. So Wally rented a shop in Culver City, California. This would serve as the first Airstream factory.
The War Years
When the United States entered World War II after the Pearl Harbor attacks aluminum became hard to come by. The government even mandated that travel trailers could only be made for the war effort, not for recreational use. So Wally closed up shop, and he, along with many of his employees took jobs in the aircraft industry.
Moving to Ohio
By 1952 Airstream had outgrown its plant on the West Coast, and the search for a second location had begun. Instead of staying in California, Wally opted to open a second operation in Jackson Center, Ohio. The California plant would ultimately close in 1978, after combining the operations in Jackson Center.
The First "Self-Contained" Travel Trailer
In 1954 Wally convinced the Bowen Water Heater Company to produce the first unit specifically for a travel trailer. Thanks to this, the 1958 Airstream International was the first travel trailer that didn't require outside hookups.
The Death of a Legend
On July 22, 1962, Wally Byam passed away after battling cancer. Art Costello, formerly the president of Airstream Trailers Inc. of California, took over as president of Airstream. Andy Charles, former president of Airstream Trailers Inc. of Ohio, became Chairman of the Board.
To the Moon and Back
When America sent the first humans to the moon in 1969 it was feared that they might return with some unknown disease. Because of this NASA quarantined the Apollo 11 astronauts in a specially designed Airstream on the USS Hornet.
Engine Now Included
Airstream had been exclusively a trailer manufacturer for nearly four decades. However, Wally had always wanted to diversify the lineup. So in 1974 the first Airstream motorhome was introduced, the Argosy. Unfortunately, it was ultimately ahead of its time and was discontinued in 1979.
Under New Management
In 1980, Wade Thompson and Peter Orthwein, owners of Hi-Lo Trailers, saw the travel trailer market starting to pick back up again and set out to form a new company, Thor Industries. Thor Industries soon acquired the Airstream company and still owns it now, 40 years later.
A New Headquarters
In 2018 Airstream broke ground on the first new facility in nearly 50 years. Remaining in Jackson Center, Ohio, the new manufacturing plant and headquarters covers 750,000 square feet. Airstream trailers have always been made right here in the United States.