Airstream

airstream

Airstream is a brand of luxury recreational vehicle manufactured in Jackson Center, Ohio. It is currently a division of Thor Industries. The company, which now employs fewer than 400, is the oldest in the industry. Airstream trailers are easily recognized for their distinctive rounded aluminum bodies, which originated in the 1930s from designs created by Hawley Bowlus. Bowlus was the chief designer of Charles Lindbergh’s aircraft, the Spirit of St. Louis.

The company was founded by Wally Byam, who began building trailers out of Masonite in his backyard in Los Angeles during the late 1920s. A lawyer by training, Byam published a magazine selling ‘how-to’ kits to customers wishing to build their own trailers. He then 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.

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 attention once again turned towards leisure travel. Byam’s company went back into production in 1948. In 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 aluminum 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, still based in Jackson Center, is owned by Thor, Inc. The company presently manufactures approximately 1,000 trailers and motorhomes per year. Currently, Airstream produces several models — Sport, Flying Cloud, International and Classic Limited. 2011 trailer sizes range between 16 ft to 34 ft (4.9 to 10.5 m). Airstream also manufactures models for the European market. Airstreamers are a group of RVers who share a community spirit because of their mutual 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.

In 1969, upon their return from the Moon, the crew 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 has used a modified 1983 Airstream Excella since 1984 dubbed the Astrovan. 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 chairs, carpeting, wood paneling, television and DVD players.

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