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Wooden Mobile Homes From The Early 20th Century

During the early 20th century, a distinctive and movable type of housing surfaced, known as mobile wooden homes.

These structures, colloquially known as mobile homes, offer a captivating glimpse into a bygone era, when flexibility, craftsmanship, and the open road beckoned to a generation yearning for adventure.

The concept of mobile living was not entirely novel during this era. However, it was during the early 20th century that it gained significant traction.

The confluence of factors, such as improved transportation systems, economic opportunities, and the desire for a more transient lifestyle, led to the rise of wooden homes on wheels.

The Smithsonian awards the honour of being the nation’s first recreational vehicle to Pierce Arrow’s Touring Landau in 1910.

The Touring Landau used a patented, fifth-wheel trailer hitch mechanism that was permanently attached to the automobile.

The model was shown at Madison Square Garden and offered to the public for $8,250. It lists a phone line to connect the trailer to the driver and has a chamber pot.

Early motorhomes were usually converted goods trucks and were heavy, noisy, inflexible and expensive, restricting their use to the wealthy or self-builders.

Until the 1920s, the most common car was the Ford Model T, and RVs had to be custom-built. In 1923, a Nomad house car was built on the chassis of the Ford Model TT.

A Ford Model T from the early 1920s.

It was owned by novelists John Stanton and Mary Chapman, who owned it for 47 years and travelled in it to 24 states.

In 1927, Leonard S Whittier built a custom RV on the chassis of a Brockway model H bus chassis. It had wicker chairs, bookcases, a refrigerator, and a sink as well as an electric stove. It even had a septic tank.

The 1930s decade saw manufacturers begin to make travel trailers, ranging from very small to very large. In 1936, the Curtiss Aerocar was made by Glen Curtiss, an aircraft designer.

In the same year, the Airstream Trailer Co. manufactured the Clipper, with riveted aluminum resembling an airplane. It could sleep four and carried a supply of water.

Dr. A. A. Foster and his family in an auto tourist camp, ca. 1920.

In 1937, the teardrop trailer which slept two became popular. In 1938, Commander Attilio Gatti, an Italian explorer, had two “jungle yachts” made for his trips to Africa.

The jungle yachts had a dining car, bar, two bedrooms, and lighting, as well as a telephone.

Living in these homes on wheels was not without its challenges. These homes were relatively compact compared to traditional houses, and they presented difficulties in terms of heating, plumbing, and insulation.

Gospel Car No. 1, built by William Downer in Glassboro, New Jersey, late 1910s.

However, the inhabitants of these mobile homes were inherently resourceful.

Wooden homes on wheels from the early 20th century are more than just dwellings on wheels; they represent a unique chapter in American history.

They symbolise a time when individuals were ready to forego traditional living for the thrill of the open road and the bonds of community that came with it.

The superb bus of Ray Conklin, president of the New York Motorbus Company in 1915.

While the wooden motor homes of the early 20th century offered a unique and liberating experience, they were not without challenges. Limited amenities, maintenance issues, and the evolving landscape of road infrastructure presented hurdles for those who chose this unconventional lifestyle.

On a Ford TT chassis.

Despite the challenges, the legacy of wooden motor homes endures. They paved the way for the modern recreational vehicle (RV) industry, influencing the design and concept of mobile living spaces. Today, the spirit of wanderlust embodied by these early 20th-century wooden motor homes lives on in the hearts of those who continue to embrace a life on the road.

A German country house on wheels in 1922.

The wooden motor homes of the early 20th century were more than just dwellings; they were a manifestation of the human desire for exploration and freedom. As we look back on this unique chapter in housing history, we can appreciate the craftsmanship, innovation, and adventurous spirit that defined an era where the road was not just a means of transportation but a pathway to a life less ordinary.

A traveling minister with a tiny church car, with a tiny organ inside and a foldable rooftop steeple, 1922.

A fancy homebuilt motorhome, built on a Ford Model TT truck chassis in Ohio, 1924.

W. M. O’Donnell and his family in their “bungalow auto”, 1926.

The Burn Family (June and Farrar) and their moving house, 1929.

The homebuilt car of Charles Miller with a nice bit of lawn, 1930.

The Jungle Yacht was created for and used by Italian explorer Commander Attilio Gatti and his wife, who both traveled extensively to the African Congo as a deluxe apartment.



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