Home on the Road: The Motor Home in America

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9781560988922: Home on the Road: The Motor Home in America

In 1916, a midwestern farm couple placed a wood and canvas sleeping compartment on top of an automobile chassis and toured the Rockies, carrying along hens for a supply of eggs. In 1940, a streamlined Cherokee red house car owned by a well-known wax manufacturer was featured at the New York World's Fair. In 1964, Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters inaugurated the hippie movement in a psychedelic bus named Furthur. In 1992, Winnebago Industries rolled out its two hundred and fifty thousandth motor home, confirming that houses on wheels had evolved far beyond the fads and experiments of earlier decades. Throughout the twentieth century, motor homes embodied not only Americans' ingenuity, individualism, and self-reliance, but also their quest to merge the comforts of home and the freedom of the open road.

Chronicling more than fifty years of individual and industrial tinkering, Roger B. White shows how the technological innovations and cultural ideas of each era influenced motor-home design and popular use. Drawing on contemporary descriptions and interviews with motorists and manufacturers, he documents the wooden house cars of the late 1910s and early 1920s, the streamlined metal vehicles of the late 1940s, and a variety of converted trailers and vans that emerged from the booming vacation market of the 1950s and 1960s.

The combination of wanderlust and family togetherness symbolized by the house on wheels has continued to exert profound appeal. Tracing the motor home's development from home made conversions to mass-produced recreation vehicles, Home on the Roadtakes a lively look at this little-known aspect of America's love affair with the automobile.

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About the Author:

Roger B. White is a land transportation historian at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

In 1901 naturalist John Muir observed, "Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people [have found] that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity." Within a few years of Muir's insightful comment, thousands of urban motorists returned to nature for pleasure trips, and some kept nature within the sphere of their domestic activities by combining the virtues of automobiles and houses. Road vehicles long had served as homes for the itinerant, either by choice or necessity, but living in a vehicle was not common or widely accepted among homeowners until the beginning of recreational motoring. As middle and upper class Americans learned to use the automobile for a multitude of errands and social activities, it became virtually an extension of the home because of its shelterlike qualities, speed, and readiness. When couples and families began to explore rural and wilderness areas as a pleasure activity, they used the automobile as a buffer, transferring the sophisticated furnishings, technological systems, and daily routines of home to the healthful attractions, scenic splendors, and deprivations of the outdoors. More than consumers of the latest products from Detroit and other centers of motor vehicle manufacturing, some motorists proactively shaped the future of recreational travel by converting their automobiles to simplified houses on wheels.

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