Airstreams have been around for a really long time, but if you think you know everything about these classic silver bullet shaped trailers, you’d probably be wrong. The Airstream still has a few secrets even the most devoted fans might not know!
1. A Tent Trailer Airstream?
The first Airstream was built on a Model T Chassis and was more like a tent trailer than the silver beauty of today. Wally Byam, creator of Airstreams took his wife on a camping trip and she was not impressed! The tent trailer evolved into a Masonite trailer that Wally rigged up in his back yard. To help fund the initial idea, Mr. Byam sold “how to” kits in the back of Popular Mechanics magazines so potential customers could build their own little travel trailer. Wally’s dream was to make a travel trailer that floated like a stream of air and was easy to tow by a car. He wanted people to stay in first class accommodations regardless of their location, and believe it or not, many of the original Airstreams are still on the highway today!
2. Airstream Ranch
Just 15 miles from Tampa, Florida lies the little known Airstream Ranch. This homage to Airstreams consists of eight trailers buried with their noses in the ground near Dover, Florida. While many people consider this a pile of junk, over ten thousand signed petitions to save it in 2012. Today, the Airstreams remain and have been declared a work of art. Hmm…what do you think?
3. Promotion is Key
A natural born promoter, Wally Byam had an Airstream sign attached to the inside of his door as well as the outside of his trailer. That way, whether the door was opened or closed, everyone knew it was an Airstream! The idea paid off when magazines or television crews filmed the interior of the trailer the Airstream sign always showed up!
4. A Roof-Top Airstream Hotel
In South Africa there is a hotel that hoisted Airstream trailers to the rooftop. The Grand Daddy Hotel offers guests an amazing view while sleeping in an Airstream high in the sky. There are seven vintage Airstreams recently renovated which come complete with a U.S. mailbox. Each has a queen size bed, a wet bath/shower, a TV and fridge. They are all decorated in a unique South African theme from glitzy gold, to the African coast. An outdoor cinema is nestled among the trailers allowing you to picnic under the sky and enjoy a Hollywood movie. It’s kind of like a drive-in, only you don’t have to bring your trailer, and it’s in South Africa!
5. The Clipper
The first Airstream available to the public was called the “Clipper” after a trans-Atlantic seaplane. The little unit slept up to four people and could carry its own water (which was a whole new idea at the time). The trailer had electric lights and sold for a whopping, $1,200 in 1936. The depression hit the growing RV industry hard and of the 400 travel trailer manufacturers, the Airstream was the sole survivor.
6. The Airstream Hearse
Airstreams built funeral coaches during the 1980s. There were only 32 units made with a motorhome chassis and shell. Today they are rare and very collectible. The concept was to carry the deceased along with the immediate family and the flowers. The Airstream could seat up to 12 people.
7. Round the World in an Airstream
Wally Byam loved to travel and organized Airstream caravans all over the world. In the early 1960s he organized an Around the World Caravan that followed the historic map of Marco Polo. It took 403 days and departed from Singapore. 31,000 miles later the caravan ended in Portugal. National Georgraphic was so fascinated with the idea that they documented the journey and produced a television mini-series featuring the oh so spooky voice of Vincent Price. During a 1956 European Caravan Wally Byam stumbled into the Electrolux company. From this meeting, Wally imported the Dometic refrigerator for his trailers. Nearly 60 years later, Dometic has become a major brand in nearly all RVs. From toilets to fridges, the Dometic brand can link their success to the Airstream!
8. Airstream Only Parks
There are at least 12 Airstream only RV parks around the U.S Many of these parks allow you to bring your Airstream or rent one to enjoy the facilities. In Texas and Arizona, Airstream parks are adding homes with garages built especially for storing the silver bullet. Groups of ‘Airstreamers’ are popular throughout the world, and many travel to various international locations just to experience the view from the iconic trailer.
9. For More Than Just Recreation
Airstreams are used throughout the world and are often strapped inside military cargo planes. The Air Force uses custom built Airstreams for communication centers in remote areas. NASA has also used the Airstream. When the crew of Apollo 11 returned from the moon a special airtight Airstream became their mobile quarantine center. NASA has also used Airstream motorhomes to transport astronauts to and from the launch pad.
10. The Silver Bullet
The Airstream did not acquire its silver bullet shape until the late 1960s. Prior to that, the Airstream had squared off ends and resembled a boxy loaf of bread. The sleek design was instituted after Wally Byam’s death when the company did their first major update in over 30 years. In the 1950s Mr. Byam was under pressure to create colored trailers. He kicked around the idea of painting them pastel pinks and greens and even built a gold Airstream for himself. The result? He hated it! In the end he stuck with the classic aluminum siding riveted in place like an airplane, and boy are we glad he did!
Want to read more about the Airstreams? Here are three awesome articles you can’t miss:
Are you an Airstream fanatic? Do you own a new or vintage unit? If you discovered some unknown Airstream trivia, share this article with your social friends! Thanks for reading.