Airstream Legacy Part of ‘Truck Trend Legends’

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May 1, 2014 by   1 Comment

     Editor’s Note: The following article on Airstream Inc.’s history of innovation appears in Truck Trend’s online magazine profiling “Truck Trend Legends.” 

There are so many quintessentially American aspects of the Airstream story: cutting-edge designs, visionary marketing, plain hard work, breathtaking scenery, and the romance of the road being just a few.

It all started with a set of instructions called “How to Build a Trailer for One Hundred Dollars.” Wallace Merle Byam, aka Wally (onetime sailor, shepherd, law student, ad agency man, and magazine publisher), sold more than 15,000 of these plans for a buck each — the equivalent of around $13 today — back in 1927. He’d already learned the hard way that pitching a tent on a Ford Model T chassis was not a good idea, but he persevered with the principle. Byam soon heard from DIY trailer-makers, however, that his plans contained errors. So he went into his Los Angeles backyard and started constructing his own out of Masonite and plywood, to get to the root of the issues. Passersby saw his creations and offered to buy them, and making the trailers soon became his full-time occupation.

But the Airstream as we know and love it didn’t come into being until Byam (born on July 4, just to add to the American-ness) teamed up with aero designer and builder William Hawley Bowlus, who was working in aluminum and had made Charles Lindbergh’s famed Spirit of St. Louis airplane. If the vehicles doing the towing weren’t aerodynamic, at least the trailers behind them were. Bowlus had the designs; Byam had the selling smarts.

To read the full article and view accompanying pictures click here.

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One Response to “Airstream Legacy Part of ‘Truck Trend Legends’”

  1. Dale "Pee Wee" Schwamborn on May 1st, 2014 2:00 pm

    Wally studied history at Stanford University, and graduated with a history degree. There is no doubt that Wally Byam was friends with Hawley Bowlus. Also the Bowlus trailer was sold on Wally Byam’s Airstream sales lot in Los Angeles. As to any engineering work down by Hawly for Wally is unknown. History believes that during 1935 on his lot Wally saw the opportunity to buld a better aircraft constructed trailer. The Airstream “Clipper” was ready for production late 1935 and was first sold in 1936. Hawley Bowlus and his trailer went out of business in 1937. Unlike stories that the Airstream “Clipper” occurred when Wally purchased the Bowlus company, in or out of bankruptcy. As John Long, who took ten years to restore a Bowlus trailer, commented the Bowlus is the Origin of the Species, and Airstream is the soul survivor in the evolution process.