Airstream is a brand of luxury trailers ("caravans" in British English) which are easily recognized by the distinctive shape of their rounded, polished aluminum coachwork. This body shape dates back to the 1930s and is based on designs created by Hawley Bowlus, who had earlier overseen construction of Charles Lindbergh's aircraft, the Spirit of St. Louis.
Airstream trailers and recreational vehicles are manufactured in Jackson Center, Ohio, USA. The company, a division of Thor Industries, now employs more than 600 people, and is the oldest in the industry.
The company was created by Wally Byam, a lawyer by training, who began building trailers out of Masonite in his backyard in Los Angeles during the late 1920s. Byam published a magazine selling "how-to" kits to customers wishing to build their own trailers. After helping market Hawley Bowlus' trailer, Byam acquired the struggling Bowlus Company. In 1936, Byam introduced the "Airstream Clipper", which was essentially a rebadged 1935 Bowlus, with the door relocated from the front to the side. The design cut down on wind resistance and thus improved fuel efficiency. It was the first of the now familiar sausage-shaped, silver aluminum Airstream trailers. The first Airstream, called the "Clipper" in 1936, was named after the first trans-Atlantic seaplane. It slept four, carried its own water supply, was fitted with electric lights and cost $1,200. Of more than 400 travel trailer builders operating in 1936, Airstream was the sole survivor of the Depression. During World War II, travel became a luxury most could not afford and non-military industries faced an acute aluminum shortage. When World War II ended, the economy boomed, and people's attention once again turned towards leisure travel. Byam's company went back into production in 1948. In July 1952, a new facility in Jackson Center, Ohio, was established. 1979 saw the last Airstreams to be manufactured in California.
In 1974, Airstream began manufacturing a Class A motorhome, badged "Argosy". They began as painted 20- and 24-foot (6.1 and 7.3 m) models, and were followed in 1979 by the first examples of the Classic model motorhome, with an unpainted aluminum body much like the trailers.
Airstream-badged Class A motorhomes began as 24- and 28-foot (7.3 and 8.5-m) models in 1979, and in the 1980s and 1990s, models ranging from 25 up to 37 feet (7.6 up to 11.2 m) were marketed. The aluminum motorhomes were followed by more traditional-looking fiberglass models in the 1990s. Airstream discontinued manufacture of Class A motorhomes in 2006. One bus model, the Skydeck, featured interior stairs leading to a deck on the roof.
In 1981, Airstream's Commercial Vehicle Division marketed a Class A motorhome as a funeral coach. It was designed to transport family, flowers and the deceased from the funeral home to the cemetery.
Starting in 1989, Airstream built Class B motorhomes based on the Ford Econoline chassis and the Dodge B-series van chassis. Production ceased after the 1999 model year. In 2004, Airstream introduced the Westfalia and Interstate, built on the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis. The Westfalia was discontinued in 2006.
Airstream, still based in Jackson Center, is a division of Thor, Inc. The company manufactures more than 2,000 trailers and several hundred motorhomes per year. Airstream produces several models — Basecamp, Sport, Flying Cloud, International Signature and Serenity, Tommy Bahama, and Classic. 2016 trailer sizes range between 16 ft to 33 ft (4.9 to 10 m).
Airstream also manufactures models for the European market, with smaller dimensions to accommodate narrower European roads.
There are more than a dozen Airstream parks throughout the United States. These are RV resorts or campgrounds where owners of Airstream-manufactured units are allowed to buy, rent or lease a site. Some of these facilities welcome non-Airstream products, while others are more strict in their admission. Some of the parks require membership in the WBCCI to be admitted. Several of the resorts are owned and operated by the local unit of the WBCCI.
Airstreamers are a group of "RV-ers" who share a community spirit because of their common love of the trailers. In the early 1950s, Airstream company founder Wally Byam began leading groups of owners on travels to many portions of the world, where the towed trailers were quite remarkable. Photos taken of the trailers in front of many famous tourist sites were common. This promoted a mystique which surrounded Airstreams and persists to this day.
The Wally Byam Caravan Club was formed during the 1955 rally in Kentville, Nova Scotia, Canada. Later, the word "International" was added to the club name, resulting in the acronym "WBCCI". On August 17, 2005, a commemorative plaque was dedicated on the site. Club members join together for one large International Rally each summer (which by club rules always includes the dates of July 1 and July 4), and hundreds of smaller local rallies are held coast-to-coast by "units" (chapters). Airstreams are still popular, and restoration of older models is a passion shared by many.
In 1969, upon their return from the Moon, the crewmen of Apollo 11 were quarantined in the Mobile Quarantine Facility, a modified airtight Airstream trailer, until it could be determined that there was little likelihood of their having brought back lunar pathogens with them.
For decades, NASA has used a fleet of Airstream motorhomes to transport astronauts to the launch pad. The space shuttle program used a modified 1983 Airstream Excella beginning in 1984 dubbed the Astrovan.
United States Air Force
Airstream trailers are commonly used to transport American officials around the world. The trailers are strapped down inside military cargo planes. The trailers feature leather seats, air conditioning and climate control, wood panelling, porcelain toilet, LED televisions, surround sound, and Blu-ray players.
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- "Thor Industries, Inc. History". fundinguniverse.com. Retrieved 2017-03-20.
- "Airstream Parks". viewrvs.com. Retrieved 2017-03-20.
- Mansfield, Cheryl L (2008-07-15). "Catching a Ride to Destiny". NASA. Retrieved 2017-03-20.
- Silva, Mark (2007). "Automobiles > Slide Show > Keeping The Shiny Side Up". The Chicago Tribune. The New York Times. Retrieved 2017-03-20.
The trailer used by Vice President Dick Cheney on an international trip. Anchored inside the vast cargo hold of an Air Force C-17, it provided a private respite.
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