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A Brief History of RVs, And Why Americans Fell in Love

RV parked near a mountain.

Whether you are looking to buy an RV, live in one, or are genuinely interested in the history of the home on wheels, the story of motorhomes is truly a fascinating one. It most likely started with inspiration from nomadic travelers in Europe, which then prompted Roma Caravans to be born.

Let’s dive into the interesting history of RVs and how they came to be such a beloved way of traveling for so many Americans.

What Does RV Stand For?

According to Merriam Webster, R.V. is an abbreviation or acronym for “recreational vehicle” meaning, “a vehicle designed for recreational use (as in camping).” Synonyms include camper, caravan, motor home, RV, and travel trailer.

The human craving to have freedom on the road has been a staple of the American dream since the turn of the 20th century. In recent years, we have seen a surge in the RV lifestyle and #vanlife, possibly due to the Millennial generation changing the way we view the 9 to 5 work schedule, as well as the unparalleled positive aspects to a life of adventure on the road.

A Brief History of the First Motorhomes & RVs

Influenced by the desire to fuse nature and traveling technology, the first production recreational vehicle was Pierce-Arrow’s Touring Landau, which made its reveal in 1910 at Madison Square Garden.

The prominent debut American RV story is of the Conklin family, who took their “Gypsy Van” in 1915 from New York across the country to San Francisco. This 25-foot, 8-ton custom camper van slept 11 people and included a shower, a full kitchen, and a folding toilet.

The following 20 years or so saw the rise of camping, escaping from the hustle of the city, and finding a way to bring small bits of luxury with you while on these nature escapades. In 1917, the fifth-wheel camping trailer was invented and the Ford model trucks were being custom-built to include the basic necessities for longer trips.

The Creation of the Travel Trailer

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When humans began to separate the motor part of the vehicle from the home part of the vehicle, a whole world of new boondocking options came to be. In 1958, the first pop-up truck camper was produced, allowing people to use tow vehicles to pull their home on wheels.

RVers began to find ways to incorporate important parts of everyday life into their motorhomes, including adding living areas, holding tanks, bunkhouses with bunkbeds, and air-conditioning.

In the following years, popular models like the Airstream, Volkswagen’s Type 2 Westfalia, The Shasta, and The Trailorboat all took the motorhome world by storm with their innovative decision and lovable livability.

Modern Day Recreational Vehicles & RVing

There are many different options when it comes to living full-time on wheels or just taking your camper van for a weekend of boondocking. Some of the most popular include fifth wheels, pop-ups, converted vans, motorhomes, and different types of RVs. Modern-day motorhomes are now divided by class and other forms of traveling homes are categorized by the main features they provide:

Class A

Class A motorhomes are the largest of the RV types and tend to be more luxurious (think a tour bus for a famous musician).

Class B

Also referred to as camper vans or “sleeper vans,” Class B Motorhomes are smaller than Class A RVs yet are still equipped with all the necessities for the RV lifestyle.

Class C

Class C recreational vehicles are also known as truck campers as they usually are built into a truck bed and have some sort of lofted bunkhouse or extra storage capabilities.

Pop-up Trailers

Pop-up campers are smaller travel trailers that can “pop up” whenever you need to use them. They usually offer a living area, a camp-like kitchen, and a bed area on each side and hook up to a larger truck or vehicle capable of towing.

Travel Trailer

A term used to classify a trailer of any size that is towed behind a vehicle.

Fifth Wheel Camper

On the more luxury side of the RVing, fifth wheels are only able to be towed by heavy-duty vehicles, like a pick-up truck. They usually boast a spacious interior with a living space, full kitchen, full bathroom, a water tank, and a wastewater tank.

Toy Hauler

These travel trailers are made for full-time outdoor enthusiasts and are appointed with ample room to fit all of your outdoor “toys,” including kayaks, bikes, ski equipment, and more.

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