The Airstream is an eye-catching vintage classic. First appearing on American highways in the mid-1930s, these sleek aluminum icons were compact, cozy spaces that could hitched to the family car and taken out on the open road – and nearly a century later, their timeless design has lost none of its appeal, with the Airstream enjoying renewed popularity among celebrities, event planners and young travelers who appreciate its distinctively American blend of functionalism and beauty and air of nostalgia. 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% of all Airstreams still on the road today. The book features the complete history of the Airstream, tips, cool facts, quotes and fabulous photographs— a fitting tribute to a true American legend.
Excerpts from Airstream: King of the RVs
From the chapter The Icon
AIRSTREAMS were popular from the very beginning, but it takes time for a something to surpass the phase of “trendy” and achieve the title of “iconic.” What makes a silver toaster-like home on wheels an American icon? Much like other American icons, Airstream has reached that status because it has been constant—strong, beautiful, durable, and dependable. Like Levi’s, Elvis, and Coca-Cola it came on as a huge success, weathered the bad times and some questionable decades, but always remained true to Wally Byam’s original vision—quality, adventure, self-reliance, innovation, hard work, community and looking good.
A cultural icon can be defined as a person or object that represents some aspect of values, norms or ideals perceived or desired in a culture or society. One must look no further than Wally Byam’s vision to see why Americans have such a soft spot for his rolling tin cans. The company’s motto, “See More, Do More, Live More” could be the catchphrase for America during the postwar boom. Wally Byam created, led and personified the image of a group who rebelled, valued hard work and craftsmanship and upon gaining some success appreciated creature comforts. In an article in the New York Times
(2007), Phil Patton stated, “Airstream can be seen as a symbol of the best and worst qualities of traveling Americans: the willingness to go anywhere tempered by the simultaneous wish never to leave home.” The very concept of the Airstream seeps deep into the psyche of the average American, so the seed for iconic status was planted from the beginning.
The streamlined design, though not Byam’s idea, was a trend of the time and something about this look has endured. It appealed to the masses as a statement of moving forward, progress, speed, and American virility. It held the promise of rocketing into the future, into a better life. It was associated with prosperity and excitement and was closely linked to science fiction and utopian societies. This look has grown unique over time, like a classic car that has endured, which is why this particular trailer is set apart from others RVs.
Excerpted from Airstream by Tara Cox. Copyright © 2013 by Tara Cox. Excerpted by permission of Shire, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.