Airstream, manufacturer of the iconic “silver bullet” travel trailer, is the oldest and most recognized recreational vehicle manufacturer in North America.
The design of the Airstream was based on an airplane fuselage with lightweight aluminum and the effect was stunning, sleek, and silver.
Founder Wally Byam stated in 1936 that he is in business “to make people’s dreams come true.”
When Airstream began, there were less than 48 trailer manufacturers that were registered for business. Five years later, nearly 400 companies squared off against each other. Today of those 400 companies, only Airstream remains.
Born in the California backyard of inventor Wally Byam and inspired by a trailer designed by Hawley Bowlus, the famed chief builder of The Spirit of St. Louis, the Airstream’s modernist aesthetic has remained relatively unchanged in eight decades, and its industrial durability has earned a reputation without peer with more than 65 percent of all Airstreams still on the road today.
Following founder Wally Byam’s credo, “Let’s not make changes, let’s only make improvements,” Airstream has remained a timeless classic throughout its 82-year history.
Wally Byam designed his first Airstream in 1931, and the current versions still maintain that early, distinctive look. Shiny, sleekly rounded and riveted together, the aluminum recreational trailers have been rolling down the highway since before there was an interstate system, picking up legions of loyalists along the way.
Airstreams have always had their fans, but now they are cashing in on their cult following, with sales that have recovered from the recession and prices that exceed the industry norm for both new and used trailers. These days Airstreams seem to be popular across the board, from young travelers who tether their bikes on the back, to seniors who spend their retirement seeing the country in their Airstream Flying Clouds or Land Yachts.
10 Facts About Airstream
1. A 1960 Airstream Bambi trailer has a permanent home at New York’s Museum of Modern Art as an example of excellence in design.
2. The aluminum outer shell of the Airstream is based on an airplane fuselage design. Its rounded corners make it more aerodynamic, cutting drag by 20 percent and increasing fuel mileage.
3. Airstreamers love to attend rallies and travel in caravans around the nation, and the world. The first official Wally Byam Caravan Club was formed in 1955 in Nova Scotia. One of the earliest caravan routes was up the length of Africa, from Cape Town to Cairo.
4. Airstreams have some famous fans. Tom Hanks, Johnny Depp, Adrian Brody, Brad Pitt, Denzel Washington, Lenny Kravitz, and Sean Penn are just a few celebrity Airstream owners. In fact, Matthew McConaughy lived in a 28-foot Airstream for several years in Malibu before buying a house there, which still has enough property for the three Airstreams he now owns.
5. President John F. Kennedy used an Airstream for a mobile office when he spent time in White Sands, New Mexico, checking out Army innovations.
6. Designer Ralph Lauren transformed four vintage Airstream trailers a dozen years ago and auctioned them off to raise money for his foundation, which benefits medically underserved patients.
7. After returning from the moon in 1969, Neil Armstrong and other members of the Apollo 11 crew were quarantined for three weeks in an Airstream to determine whether they had been exposed to lunar pathogens.
8. When flying to visit the troops in Afghanistan, first lady Laura Bush spent time in her own private Airstream on board the plane.
9. A 1957 Airstream trailer became one of the early symbols of MTV. It was displayed outside its headquarters in Santa Monica, California.
10. Two classics combined in 2009 when Airstream partnered with Victorinox Swiss Army for a world tour in celebration of the 125th anniversary of the original Swiss Army knife.
I saw a peanut stand, heard a rubber band, I saw a needle that winked its eye. But I think I will have seen everything When I see an Airstream fly.
—music and lyrics by Oliver Wallace and Ned Washington, in Dumbo