Airstream’s first ride was in 1929, but really Airstream was born the first time Wally Byam left home. Wally’s early life – schooling, sailing, camping, and working – all came together to form a vision of the open road, the outdoors, and freedom. That vision was realized in a tent on a Model T chassis. It was realized in a boy working to pay for his school. It was realized when Wally Byam built that first trailer, and it’s still alive today.
As the 1930s dawned, interest in Wally Byam’s early trailer designs was growing. So much so, in fact, that he couldn’t handle the demand on his own from his yard anymore, or by sending five-dollar manuals around the country. People had seen the first Airstreams, and they wanted to get on-board. A factory would open. A trailer would debut. But then a Great Depression would jeopardize everything
Airstream survived the Depression. World War II would be another challenge. Factories closed, and Wally Byam and others joined the war effort. But after the fighting stopped, Airstream was back, and soon better than ever. And as the company grew, Wally would have a chance to get on the road, battle-test his trailers – and plant the seed of a caravan revolution.
In the 1950s, Airstream went through a lot of changes, and mostly for the good. The old factory was outgrown. Wally Byam led a caravan of trailerites outside American borders for the first time. Innovation continued, inside the company and out. By decade’s end, in a lot of ways Airstream had made the leap from being a travel trailer company to being a movement and a culture that was shared by thousands.
For the first three decades of its existence – and maybe even longer – Airstream and Wally Byam were synonymous. But the 1960s changed that. Wally passed away, and Airstream no longer had its founder and leader. There would be turmoil and there would be change, but nobody should be surprised that the company and the idea that Wally devoted his adult life to was grand enough and strong enough to live on.
With a recession and a gas crisis, the 1970s weren’t a great decade for the auto industry as a whole, let alone travel trailers and Airstream. Driving for fun wasn’t on the table for many people. And that brought change to Airstream. For the first time in the company’s history, it left California – and for good. New products were introduced, unlike anything Airstream had done before. But even in a time of flux, with change everywhere, what remained was undeniably Airstream.
Since Wally Byam’s death, Airstream had gone through periods of great prosperity and periods of great hardship. But in the 1980s, Airstream found stable footing once again. New ownership came in, and ushered in an era of success that continues to this day. And with the silver bullet trailer gaining retro icon status, we were able to keep the old with the new.
Airstream is a company that spans eras – we appreciate our history very much, as you can see, but we also look forward whenever possible. In the 1990s, we embodied that generational bridge. New efforts were started to honor and preserve Airstream’s greatest historical resource, the trailers themselves. And with more products and updated designs, a whole new generation of Airstreamers could get on the road in style.
We’re very proud of what’s come before us, in the near-century Airstream trailers have been on the road. In the past ten years we’ve seen the Wally Byam Caravan Club International and Airstream itself pass major milestones, and we hope to see many more. That’s why we’re also always looking forward to the future, and trying to develop new, better trailers and other products so that Airstreamers can always enjoy the open road in comfort and without worry.