|Yoked to the Car|
Throughout its history, beginning with the Conestoga wagon, the trailer
has been eulogized as a mechanism of personal freedom, allowing escape through mobility.
However, livable space in a travel trailer required convertible areas to fit multiple uses and toleration of lack of personal privacy. Though the accommodations may have been seen as only temporary, they often endured. Today the average mobile home moves less frequently than the average American family.
The travel trailer emerged in the 1920s as a recreational accessory for the rich and near-rich owners of the newly popular automobile. The combination of the trailer and the car brought a new
form of recreation into vogue: car camping. The early trailers took inspiration
from a wide variety of sources: gypsy caravans, tents
(on trailers of course), railroad carriages, yachts, airplanes, and the automobile itself.
Throughout the 1920's car camping continued to grow in popularity, and campgrounds flourished in rural and urban areas. By the early 1930's, a shift in trailer use became evident as people began to use them as permanent residences. The design of the trailers did not change to reflect its new role as a dwelling until the outbreak of World War Two.
During the war, the federal government invested heavily in the trailer industry, viewing it as a ready source of quick mass-produced housing for war workers. In 1940 the government placed its first order for 1500 mobile homes. By 1945 the government had ordered more than 150,000 units, among them the Committee Trailer.
During the 1940s, trailers were redefined as "mobile homes" as they began to be associated more with housing than as vacation vehicles towed by cars. The peace found manufacturers struggling to find applications for their products. Many airplane producers turned to trailers, including the Beech Aircraft Company, and Spartan Aircraft. During the expansive postwar period, trailers grew successively wider and longer. This trend culminated in Elmer Frey's Ten Wide which challenged highway width limits in most states.
By this time there was little to distinguish trailers from mobile homes, other than public perception. The industries officially split in 1960 in order to put the mobile home industry on better footing with the courts and state governments. Following the division, trailers have begun to move back to their origin as car accessories for campers and retirees.