Andrew Gardner: In 1931, in Southern California, Wally Byam constructed the first Airstream prototype in his backyard, made from plywood and masonite, but when word got out that he was producing this incredible travel caravan, his neighbors wanted one as well. It proved so successful that he ended up having to move production into a factory in Culver City, California.
By 1935 in the United States, there were roughly 400 other travel trailer companies. By the end of World War II, his was the only company that remained and he capitalized on the newfound patriotic spirit by marketing his Airstreams to a newly emergent American middle-class consumer.
He took a caravan of Airstreams on a 13,000-mile, seven-month journey across the continent of Africa. In 1960, he introduced the Bambi, which is named after a miniature species of deer that is native to Angola.
It was clad in the same aluminum material used for airplane fuselage. The design of airplanes also informed the shape of the Airstream, so that they had this aerodynamic bullet shape. And the all-aluminum exterior lessened the need for heavy bracing, which meant that the interior could be packed with a lot of different features.
The Airstream travel trailers have been so successful that an estimated two thirds of all Airstreams ever produced since the 1930s remain in use or on the road. Because these vehicles achieve such cult status, they become these markers of American freedom, American progress. And they have this timeless design.