Trucks & Heavy Equipment | 1 July 2016Airstream Today Share article facebook twitter google pinterest Even in a time with accessible air travel, buses, and trains, some people still like to take the long way. Packing up a trailer and hitting the open road is like a part of the American dream. No matter how many years, the road always beckons to those who listen, just as it has always been. And as always Airstream is there to answer that call, just as they have been for nearly a century. Patrick Foster’s Airstream: America’s World Traveler follows the story of the company from the very beginning, and assures us that even today America’s first trailers aren’t going anywhere (unless you take them there). For many years, Airstream has been the largest employer in little Jackson Center, Ohio. From its big main plant on West Pike Street, where travel trailers are manufacturered, to the smaller Interstate motor coach plant across the street in the former bazooka plant, Airstream dominates downtown Jackson Center. Down the street from the plant is the world headquarters of the Wally Byam Caravan Club International. Vehicles fill the street, some still being assembled, most ready for shipment. The company is also the oldest travel trailer brand in America, the simple result of outlasting its competitors. Back in 1932, shortly after Wally began producing his early trailers in a factory, there had been fewer than 48 trailer manufacturers registered for business in the United States. Five years later, that number had grown to more than 400 American manufacturers. Of all those companies, Airstream alone survives. Kozy Coach, Spartan Trailers, Covered Wagon—they’re all long gone. Others have come to take their place, but Airstream alone has endured. Airstream is not only alive, it is thriving as never before. And for that we can thank Wally Byam because it was his determination, and sheer stubborness, that kept Airstream afloat. That, along with a succession of gutsy, hard-working managers, product planners, engineers, and product designers. And let’s not forget the assembly crafters, the men and women who create Airstream trailers out of raw materials that flow into the plant in a never ending stream. We’ve watched them as they take wood, aluminum, fiberglass, and other materials and turn them into beautiful cabinets, bathrooms, countertops and ceilings. We sat amazed as they sawed, sewed, and hammered, and riveted each and every one of the thousands of parts that go into an Airstream trailer. It’s a sight to see. Airstream continues as the proud flagship brand of RV industry leader Thor Industries. Peter Orthwein, Thor’s surviving cofounder, continues as executive chairman of the board, while young and talented Robert W. Martin serves as president and CEO. In 2014, the company did over $3.5 billion in sales and reported a net profit of $470 million. It’s a large, efficient, and successful corporation. Wade Thompson would be proud. Out of hopes and dreams—and very little cash— he and Orthwein created an enduring corporation, one of the best-managed companies in America. Bob Wheeler, president of Airstream, Inc. since August 1, 2005, continues to build his plants’ production capacity to accommodate the ever-growing demand for new Airstream travel trailers. As of summer 2015, the Airstream factories comprise about 200,000 square feet and the company employs some 574 people. In certain job classifications, Airstream has one problem that most companies don’t have to face in our time—a shortage of workers. The company maintains a constant search for engineers and marketing specialists with the appropriate certifications and degrees. At the time of this writing the company was producing about seventy-five trailers per week, an amazing record considering the size, complexity, and cost of these vehicles, but demand is strong and continues to grow. One thing that is discussed whenever Airstream executives get together is whether or not the company should get back into building Class A motorhomes. Just about everybody agrees they’d love to do it, but the ramp up to production of these new vehicles would call for a completely new design, then a further investment in building a new production facility; there isn’t a square foot of available space at the Jackson Center main plant or the old bazooka plant. Stay tuned—customer demand may one day force the issue. There is a lot of nostalgia for the Airstream motorhome. Since hitting a rough patch during the Great Recession, the company’s network of retail dealers has grown to fifty-seven dealer outlets in the United States, ten of which handle Airstream products exclusively. There are also six dealers in Canada, and seven in the rest of the world, including a new one in China. While this sales coverage is impressive, there is plenty of room for further expansion of the worldwide network. Overseas demand is growing at least as fast as in the United States—and why not? No one else in the world makes a product to compare with the classic Airstream. Buy from an Online Retailer US: UK: Iconic, aluminum-bodied Airstream trailers have been around for 85 years–get the full story in this photo-rich book. Airstream is America’s best and oldest manufacturer of travel trailers, and those retro silver coaches are iconic on America’s highways. Representative of the age-old desire to explore, these trailers are unmistakable in design with distinctive aerodynamic rounded lines and an aluminum outer skin. Airstream: America’s World Traveler celebrates the eight decades since the first Airstream graced America’s highways. Airstream chronicles the fascinating history of Airstream trailers through a detailed history, stories, and beautiful photography. Although its roots stretch back to 1926, the first Airstream-brand trailers were introduced in 1936, just as America was emerging from the dark days of the Great Depression. Of the 400 travel-trailer manufacturers of that era, only Airstream survived. Dubbed the “Airstream Clipper” after the first trans-Atlantic seaplane, the 1936 Airstream featured a unique lightweight aluminum body that cut down on wind resistance, improved fuel efficiency, and made for easier towing. It slept four, carried its own water supply, was fitted with electric lights, and cost $1,200. The Airstream provided travelers with a way to see the world at their leisure and in solid comfort. It was the perfect vehicle for a country emerging from a long struggle. In the eight decades since that first Airstream, the company has produced some of the finest trailers in the world and gained a worldwide reputation as the Rolls-Royce of travel trailers. The Airstream story is one of travel, adventure, and memories that last a lifetime. Share article facebook twitter google pinterest If you have any comments on this article please contact us or get in touch via social media.