The background of mobile homes is fascinating and far better than any soap opera you can watch. The contractors and the mobile home business, generally speaking, are even more fascinating. The trailer industry has confronted more twists and turns and valleys and peaks than I know. There have been social and political injustices, volatile and significant economies, and fighting and rivalry of sorts going on in the previous 90 years. In this informative article about the history of mobile houses, I will cover the significant events and advancements that helped transition mobile homes to the luxury manufactured homes we’ve got today. It’s a crazy ride!
The Truth About the First Mobile Homes from the US
Many articles about mobile home history claim that the very first homes in the US were small cottages around the Outer Banks around 1870. Horses would proceed these tiny beach homes back and forth a few feet to prevent high tides. Those were not the first mobile homes. They weren’t even cellular just only moveable. Definition, a mobile home constructed on a chassis. Those small cottages had no chassis. The Unpainted Aristocracy, Old Cottage Row, and the small colonies in Nags Head that helped found the Outer Banks were built on piling; therefore the sea could wash under them at high tide. That was one of the major attractions to the area. Sitting on a deck with the sea under you was a terrific way to cool off in hot summers. Of course, homes and have been transferred by horse and engine; however, that does not mean they’re mobile homes.
Conestoga Wagons were the First Mobile Homes in America
In my view, the first mobile homes would need to be the Conestoga Wagons, the American version of the European Vardo or gypsy wagon. I’m giving the name of’Initial Mobile Homes in America’ to the Conestoga Wagon since they had wheels and a cambered chassis and were crucial to American development just like our modern day manufactured homes. They assisted households to carry their goods across westward and the Appalachian and supplied shelter and safety to people. Roads were not-existent, and it took days to sometimes travel a mile or two, so these wagons were home for months, sometimes longer. Wikipedia describes the Conestoga Wagon:
“The Conestoga wagon was constructed with its flooring curved upward to prevent the contents from tipping and shifting. Including its tongue, the typical Conestoga wagon was 18 feet (5.4 m) long, 11 ft (3.3 m) high, and 4 ft (1.2 m) in width…..The frame and suspension were made from timber, and the wheels were frequently iron-rimmed for greater durability.”
The Automobile Changed Everything
Towns and cities were loud and notably filthy during the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Coal kept the houses warm and the factories going. However, it did so at a price tag, black soot, and smoke. The houses were not so clean. Getting away from the contamination and appreciating air that is clean whenever possible was a luxury only the fortunate could afford. Middle and high-income households could travel by train for their second home in the country or a favorite resort for entire summers while the less lucky stayed behind. That was changed by the auto. In reality, everything changed.
The wealthy and the class equalized. It made getting away from it all possible for the country’s majority. The working class couldn’t afford second homes or hotels that are fancy, but they can afford auto- camping. The automobile did change everything, and the wide-open street was calling. Little cargo trailers were common to its touring and auto-camping family. From there history gets a little muddled. Companies offered ‘Touring’ versions to allow for sleeping. So I think they deserve a nod at the background of homes the RV and fifth wheel trailer have been born from these alterations. Homemade and one-of-a-kind build like the two above and below were common. Builders would frequently use chassis from wrecked automobiles, but chassis from trailer/cargo trucks were much better so we can not forget about their location in the history of mobile homes.
The Covered Wagon Company
Many articles claim that Arthur G. Sherman and his Covered Wagon Company were the first to create a mobile home in a mill via an assembly line, so his considered the father of their mobile home. Following a cumbersome camping excursion, Arthur G. Sherman, a bacteriologist, and president of a pharmaceutical company decided to begin a solid-body carrier company. In 1929 he spent $10,000 and leased a garage to start building trailers under the title The Covered Wagon. In 1931 The Covered Wagon Company sold 117 Automobiles, and from 1936 he had been selling over 10,000 campers and grossing over 3 million dollars in earnings.
The initial Covered Wagon ever constructed by Arthur G. Sherman (Detroit Historical Society)
Mr. Sherman’s location was an element in his success. The business started in Detroit, MI and was afterward moved to Mount Clemens, Michigan, a small city close to Detroit. The Detroit area was the capital of the automobile and Mr. Sherman that the Opportunity to visit and examine the production lines in the Ford Motor Company in Detroit. He used that understanding in his factory. Mr. Sherman is credited as the creator of factory-built home because he was the first to use an assembly line in creation. The picture above is allegedly the first camper ever built by Mr. Sherman in 1929. The Detroit Historical Society has this camper in its collection.
His campers evolved into the bread loaf shape, among seven camper layouts that were popular. The campers were 6.5′ broad and had the doorway on the side instead of the back like most previous designs. This allowed to get a floor plan and retained the dirt from the device. Between 1934 and’35, The Covered Wagon Company needed a 6-time growth rate. There were more than 76 vendors in the US and five other nations. The travel trailer and camper industry appreciated growth. Auto-camping was the national pastime — people had never been free and unhindered. The rivalry between the trailer builders was getting heated in the late 1930s. People bought trailers as they can build them.
Covered Wagon Trailer, 1936
Trailers were so hot that contractors could not build them fast enough,” anything which looked like a trailer offered, regardless of what the size, shape, weight, structure, or price.” Seeing The Covered Wagon Company’s success made others opt to enter the market. Even one of the Covered Wagon Company traders partnered with an investor and created their very own trailer business. In 1934, Wilbur J. Schult established his namesake company, Schult Trailers. His design was a bit different but still needed the bread loaf to seem. The first couple of decades the bread loa There have been some trailers on the marketplace which were nothing short of amazing Though the bread loaf shape was popular. Wally Byam, founded in 1935 airstream, the aluminum campers. The Silver Dome was set in 1932 by Wolfe Bodies, Inc., by 1936 they were the 2nd largest trailer builder in the country, right behind Covered Wagon. In 1936, the shop and motor home industry was the fastest growing industry in America. The country was hooked that travel trailers enabled them. From 1937 the trailer business was so large they had to make Trailer Coach Manufacturers Association, an industry trade association.
There were growing pains although campers were being built.
So many households had trailers and if they traveled they had a place. That was a problem because some people were not taught the proper manners for general decency and would litter, create a lot of noise, and leave the natives with a bad opinion of the folks traveling. It was getting out of hand, and several towns were restricting trailer parks altogether since they worried about property values, crime, and a reduced tax base. Some towns were cashing in and opening pay-by-night parks though they had to restrict the number of nights trailers could stay. Some trailer owners would stay for months. Learn more about mobile home park background.
World War II affected the trailer industry. We needed resources the government started rations and factories were retooled to produce for the war. For the trailer business, all selling to the public was forbidden. With declining sales and global war, the trailer industry was in peril. Many businesses, such as Airstream shut down but would reopen after the war. The government was convinced that trailers were temporary employee housing which was ideal. They might also be eligible for critical materials use. Over 6000 house trailers were built to help the shortages at the war generation facilities. The trailers were confined to just a couple of layouts. The’Committee Trailer’ was among those designs that are enabled. It had been the war worker’s poor experience. It turned out to be a no-win situation for the trailer businesses. These trailers weren’t meant for living in those northern regions that were cramped.
By 1943 there were more than. Half of these were living in trailers. There were 16 private trailer parks, and parks were run by a handful of governments. You can see a movie about trailer parks. From the mid-1940s, trailers averaged 8 ft. wide and 20 ft. Long. They might sleep several but had no toilet. Still, full-time was living. Remember, that in the mid-1940s many homes didn’t have indoor plumbing.
Later this decade, the length moved to over 30 ft. Long and baths were installed. By this time the guys who had fought in WWII were coming home in masses and housing was a requirement. Mobile houses were a great match for the business to continue to evolve and prosper. There has been a sort of housing shortage after the war. Rather than temporary houses, the nation needed houses for a living. This is where the trailer industry began to shine. In 1947 it was believed that more than 6 million households were living with friends and family members. The housing deficit was a problem, and trailer businesses stepped up, creating more than 60,000 units. From 1948 it’s estimated that 7% of the people were living in a trailer house or mobile home.
1936-1953 made a ton of lovely homes. There were trailers for camping and big homes for a living. It was only in 1953 that the TCMA eventually changed its name to the Mobile Home Manufacturers of America, also started focusing on larger and better homes for a living.
1949 National Trailer:
Like every industry, businesses have to evolve and offer buyers bigger and better products and the mobile home business was continuously evolving. There were hundreds of home builders. The 1950s proved to be a time of unparalleled expansion and stunning designs which is the reason why many call it the Golden Age. The industry needed a method of innovation through mobile home expos and trade shows. Builders would reveal one or two ‘fresh and distinctive’ designs across the nation at the cellular home expos and business shows. They would place the house on the manufacturing line if dealers and the general public revealed a great deal of attention. It would be marketed as a model home if no focus was received by the homes and the home designers could go back to the drawing board.
The 1954 Tri-level Pacemaker was one of the layouts that received a great deal of interest and orders. The bi-level and homes were so hot that many brands constructed them.
Pacemaker Tri-Level, 1954:
1954 was also the year that mobile homes became wider, from 8′ to 10′. Due to highway restrictions. For the 1954 Sarasota Florida Mobile Home Exposition Elmer Frey introduced the 10′, and many builders followed. The two feet allowed to get a hallway in the homes which allowed for solitude and a more home-like feel. 1960 had exceptional home layouts that are mobile; the Colonial Town House was with an end kitchen. The Doublewide Roadliner has been a popular design that is double.
1) A Typical Mobile Home in the 1960s:
2) A Typical Mobile Home in the 1970s:
1976 — 2019
In 1976, the US Congress passed the National Mobile Home Construction and Safety Act (42 U.S.C.). This was necessary to hold the industry to a higher standard and to be sure that the homes were better made and safer. The business used this bill to rebrand the houses. HUD code did produce a house that is better with electricity and construction standards. They were not portable — it took so the term mobile no more fits, manufactured homes to transport. In 1980 Congress, due to pressure from the business itself, changed the name cellular home to manufactured housing.
They wanted to update the image of the industry and “manufactured home” evokes a higher class of merchandise, and they did, sorta. They were so focused on changing everyone else that they forgot to make modifications. Today, we have even homes and triple-wide manufactured homes. The homes are just getting better and better, but they are becoming more costly. Has the industry forgotten who its clients are? Is the Mobile Home Stigma Disappearing?
To be aware of something’s history is to know it better. With this glimpse thru the history of the home, I hope you will be proud of them. The houses are great, but they have been dealt a terrible hand through the years.