This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

From Rolling Bungalows to Mobile Mansions: The Origins of America’s Obsession with the Recreational Vehicle




Burel, David

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation




This dissertation studies the rise of the recreational vehicle technology in America. It argues that recreational automobility required the achievement of mass automobility and long distance roads to become a viable travel option. The RV represents an important spinoff technology from the automotive sector by fusing highway travel with domestic household technologies. It identifies the enthusiast origins of recreational vehicle technology, which unmistakably began to take shape in the 1920s and 1930s. It contends that the Depression era initiated a vital formative period for the development of an RV industry and the culture of recreational automobility. This era’s developments revolutionized travel using mobile accommodations, which eventually centered on the development of mass-produced travel trailers. The futurism and optimism about technology in the 1930s led to wild-speculation about trailers as a revolutionary force in society. However, the realities of mobilization and World War II shifted the trailer industry into the role of producing wartime housing. The post-World War II era is considered a golden era of the travel trailer as RV technology was accommodated to postwar domestic life. In this era, the RV industry split from its sister technology of manufacturer housing. The adaptability of the RV is proven as a key element of the technology as historical conditions contribute to changes in design. The Tin Can Tourists of the World played a prominent role in this at each step story by increasingly centering their lifestyle around RVs. It shows how a diverse range of American users have looked to employ the RV in their lives in a wide range of shapes and sizes, from rolling bungalows to mobile mansions.