Airstream RV started in 1929 when Wally Byam put a tent on the top of a Model T chassis. The inspiration was due to the love of camping, but not sleeping on the ground. Since the first prototype didn't work well in the rain, Byam replaced it with a teardrop shaped shelter on top and added a stove and ice chest. He published a DIY guide in Popular Mechanics, but people wanted him to build them trailers. Airstream RV opened their first small factory in Culver City, California in 1931.
Airstream was one of the original 50 manufacturers to begin. Soon after, over 400 were scattered throughout the country by 1937. Today, only Airstream remains from those that were around during the Great Depression and World War II. The Airstream Liner began production in 1947. Airstream moved and expanded their facilities to Jackson Center, Ohio in 1952. This location has continued to be their home for more than 65 years.
Airstream RVs like to challenge themselves to introduce new things to their trailers. Mark Bowen from Bowen Water Heater Co helped them to create the first hot water system for a trailer. The Airstream International in 1958 marked the first self-contained travel trailer. This was huge because it did not require external trailer hookups. After four decades of only making travel trailers, Airstream's new management decided to manufacture motorhomes in 1974. Airstream changed management many times over the next decade. The owners of Hi-Lo Trailers, Wade Thompson and Peter Orthwein, formed Thor Industries in 1980 and acquired Airstream. Airstream continues to be a part of Thor Industries.
The 1990s saw a rebirth of sorts in Airstream buyers. They built a new Safari travel trailer that cost twenty percent less than competition. In addition to this, the trailer weighed twenty percent less so it could be towed by a larger variety of vehicles.
The classic silver bullet design of the Airstream continues to attract RV consumers. As people have asked for smaller options, Airstream has responded with their Basecamp and Nest models. Airstream has also grown with technology. In 2018, they created Smart Control Technology that now comes with their Classic Travel Trailer models. Airstream continues to manufacture a variety of touring coaches and travel trailers.