History Of Airstream
Airstream’s first ride was in 1929, but really Airstream was born the first time Wally Byam left home. Wally’s early life – schooling, sailing, camping, and working – all came together to form a vision of the open road, the outdoors, and freedom. That vision was realized in a tent on a Model T chassis. It was realized in a boy working to pay for his school. It was realized when Wally Byam built that first trailer, and it’s still alive today.
As the 1930s dawned, interest in Wally Byam’s early trailer designs was growing. So much so, in fact, that he couldn’t handle the demand on his own from his yard anymore, or by sending five-dollar manuals around the country. People had seen the first Airstreams, and they wanted to get on-board. A factory would open. A trailer would debut. But then a Great Depression would jeopardize everything.
Airstream survived the Depression. World War II would be another challenge. Factories closed, and Wally Byam and others joined the war effort. But after the fighting stopped, Airstream was back, and soon better than ever. And as the company grew, Wally would have a chance to get on the road, battle-test his trailers – and plant the seed of a caravan revolution.
In the 1950s, Airstream went through a lot of changes, and mostly for the good. The old factory was outgrown. Wally Byam led a caravan of trailerites outside American borders for the first time. Innovation continued, inside the company and out. By decade’s end, in a lot of ways Airstream had made the leap from being a travel trailer company to being a movement and a culture that was shared by thousands.
For the first three decades of its existence – and maybe even longer – Airstream and Wally Byam were synonymous. But the 1960s changed that. Wally passed away, and Airstream no longer had its founder and leader. There would be turmoil and there would be change, but nobody should be surprised that the company and the idea that Wally devoted his adult life to was grand enough and strong enough to live on.
With a recession and a gas crisis, the 1970s weren’t a great decade for the auto industry as a whole, let alone travel trailers and Airstream. Driving for fun wasn’t on the table for many people. And that brought change to Airstream. For the first time in the company’s history, it left California – and for good. New products were introduced, unlike anything Airstream had done before. But even in a time of flux, with change everywhere, what remained was undeniably Airstream.
Since Wally Byam’s death, Airstream had gone through periods of great prosperity and periods of great hardship. But in the 1980s, Airstream found stable footing once again. New ownership came in, and ushered in an era of success that continues to this day. And with the silver bullet trailer gaining retro icon status, we were able to keep the old with the new.
Airstream is a company that spans eras – we appreciate our history very much, as you can see, but we also look forward whenever possible. In the 1990s, we embodied that generational bridge. New efforts were started to honor and preserve Airstream’s greatest historical resource, the trailers themselves. And with more products and updated designs, a whole new generation of Airstreamers could get on the road in style.
SEVENTY-FIVE YEARS ON THE ROAD
The next year, Airstream itself had its 75th birthday. The silver bullet design has stood the test of time, and so has the riveted-aluminum construction. The company’s longevity is reflected in the individual trailers we build – in 2006, 65% of the Airstreams that had been built since Wally Byam’s first trailer were still on the road. In fact, some of those aged warriors included some of the ones built from the five-dollar plans Wally sold before the first factory was even open.
A HALF-CENTURY OF COMMUNITY
In 2005, the Wally Byam Caravan Club International celebrated its 50th anniversary. From the first Central American caravan Wally led to his adventures across Europe with Neil Vanderbilt, from tours of the United States to trips to Africa and China, the WBCCI has spent half a century helping Airstreamers meet each other, form lasting bonds and memories, and travel the world safely and enjoyably.
GROWING THE FAMILY
The 2000s saw a major expansion in the things Airstream could offer prospective trailerites. From the Base Camp trailer to the returning Classic motorhome to the Interstate touring coach, there has never been more variety available under the Airstream name. Some models come and go, but quality and commitment to innovation never will – it’s part of what makes Airstream what it is.