|This article relies on references to primary sources. (October 2007)|
|Traded as||NYSE: WGO|
|Founded||Forest City, Iowa, USA (February 12, 1958)|
|Headquarters||Forest City, Iowa, USA|
The company was founded by Forest City businessman John K. Hanson in February 1958. At the time, the town, located in Winnebago County, Iowa, was undergoing an economic downturn, so Hanson and a group of community leaders convinced a California firm, Modernistic Industries, to open a travel trailer factory in a bid to revive the local economy.
Surviving a rough beginning, the entire operation was purchased by five Midwesterners, with Hanson serving as president. In 1960 the name of the company was changed to Winnebago Industries. To improve quality, Winnebago Industries manufactured furniture and other components designed specifically for its travel trailers. One such innovation was the "Thermo-Panel," which was a strong, lightweight sidewall that was a characteristic of Winnebago products.
In 1966 the first motor home rolled off the Winnebago Industries assembly lines. These motor homes were sold at a price approximately half of what was being charged for competitors’ models, which led to its ubiquity and popularity in the RV community. The brand name has become synonymous with "motor home" and is commonly used as a genericized trademark for such vehicles, whether they were produced by the company or not.
Through the 1970s and into the 1980s model names were influenced by the Native American tribe of the same name and included the Brave, Chief Black Hawk, the Indian, the Chieftain, and the Warrior. Older Winnebago RVs are often recognizable by the painted "w" (also called the "flying W") on the side of the vehicle, with a stripe that connects the front and back of the camper.
In 1973, the company introduced a new model, the Minnie Winnie, built on the Dodge B-series van chassis. It was about 19-1/2 feet (5.9 m) long (despite the name, longer than the shortest contemporary Brave model). Longer models were added through the years. This model continued (using Chevrolet or Ford chassis after 1980) until the name was retired after the 2006 model year, when at 30 feet (9.1 m), it was not exactly "minnie" anymore. As gas prices went up over time, the company made smaller models available, such as the "Winnie Wagon", with a low profile and pop-top.
The company also developed a line of smaller units slightly larger than a passenger van built using various bodies and powerplants from two European automobile and truck manufacturers. The "LeSharo" used Renault parts, and the "Rialta" has a VW T-4 (a.k.a. "EuroVan") cab, the 2.5 liter 5-cylinder motor, 2.8 liter VR6 with 140 BHP and 2.8 V6 engine with 201 BHP. Distinct from the "Rialta", Volkswagen contracted to have the camper conversions of the T-4 to be done by Winnebago Industries, a radical departure from using the Germany-based Westfalia company that had become famous for building the VW Type 2 campmobile models since the 1950s (through 1991). This tradition continues today with Winnebago's use of the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis.
The Winnebago Industries Charles City, Iowa manufacturing plant was closed on August 1, 2008. Also in 2008, Winnebago Industries celebrated its 50th anniversary along with the production of its 400,000th unit. About 270 people were employed at the plant when production ended. According to a news release from the company, the Charles City, Iowa manufacturing plant was closed because of dramatic changes in the market since its opening in 2004. Winnebago officials credit the declining U.S. economy, higher fuel prices, decreasing consumer confidence and difficulties getting loans have contributed to a decrease in overall motor home demand. Retail sales have declined by double-digit percentages for seven of the last eight months for the industry. Yet, in 2009, a hardwoods department and "B-Van" department both reopened and now employ around 150 employees.
Winnebago Industries entered a new chapter when the company purchased SunnyBrook RV in December 2010, re-entering the towable manufacturing market for the first time since 1983.
In early 2012...Winnebago started producing "Towables" under their own brand name, the "Winnebago One" lineup of travel trailers and 5th wheel trailers. Early on, they started with just 3 models...and will expand to more variety in the future.
In July 2012, a Justice of the Federal Court of Australia determined that a Sydney businessman, Bruce Binns, "intentionally hijacked" the well-known US brand "in a bold attempt to pre-empt Winnebago's opening its doors here". Versions of Winnebago models were manufactured in Australia by Binn's Knott Investments, using a logo which bore a striking resemblance to Winnebago's US logo, from about 1982. In 1992, Winnebago and Binns signed a settlement for him to stop passing off his products as those of Winnebago, yet he continued. In 1997 he registered Winnebago as a trademark in Australia. The court ordered the cancellation of the bogus Winnebago trademark in Australia.
Binns had gradually introduced Australia-themed models named after: Birdsville and Longreach, Queensland; Lake Eyre and Ceduna, South Australia; Esperance, Western Australia; Menindee Lakes; etc. They were based in 2012 on chassis' of the Fiat Ducato, Mercedes Sprinter and 5 Series, VW Crafter, Iveco 50c18, Isuzu NQR450 and Spartan Summit.
In popular culture
Winnebago products have appeared in various works of film, television and music. For example, the 1975 film Escape to Witch Mountain, features a 1974 Minnie Winnie, which is made to fly in a memorable sequence. A spacecraft made from a 1986 Winnebago Chieftain appears in the Mel Brooks spoof Spaceballs. Other examples include the 1980 film The Blues Brothers, the 1985 film Lost in America, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, the Frasier episode "RDWRER", MTV's reality television series Road Rules, Family Guy, Robert De Niro's character has one in the comedy Meet the Fockers, and the title character's (Jack Nicholson) Winnebago Adventurer in About Schmidt. A popular hunting show on the VERSUS network, GUN IT, features Benny Spies traveling the countryside in his 1973 Winnebago hunting with friends, family, strangers, & just about anyone else who enjoys the outdoors.
Punk rock band the Dead Kennedys have a song on their 1982 LP, Plastic Surgery Disasters entitled "Winnebago Warrior", which mocks the habits and self-perception of stereotypical RV owners with lines such as "Winnebago warrior, brave as old John Wayne; Winnebago warrior, a true Yankee pioneer". In the US animated series The Venture Bros., Brock Samson, the hulking bodyguard of the Venture family, is described as "one-half Swedish, one-quarter Polish, one-quarter Winnebago". The 2009 stop-animation cartoon Glenn Martin, DDS is based on a dentist driving a Winnebago around the country. Winnebago Man is a 2010 documentary feature film about Jack Rebney, an RV salesman, whose profane outtakes from a 1989 Itasca Sunflyer sales video circulated underground on VHS tape, until Internet users turned the clip into a viral sensation.
A Winnebago was mentioned in the 1975 song " What Do You Want From Life, by The Tubes. In a long list of items that as "..an American Citizen, you are entitled to...", they list many vehicles, among them: "A Winnebago! Hell - a herd of Winnebagos, we're giving them away!"
Current Model Range
- John Hanson Scandinavian-American Hall of Fame
- Roger White. Home on the Road: The Motor Home in America. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian, 2001, pp. 164–67.
- Court rules Winnebago brand was 'hijacked', Leonie Wood, Sydney Morning Herald, 31 July 2012
- 'Winnebago' Australian website, accessed 31 July 2012
- Nick Plans A Family Nite - Multichannel.com - August 10, 2009
- Leckart, Steven (2010-03-22). "5 Secrets of YouTube's Success". Wired (magazine).