Wally Byam: The original Airstreamer
Our founder, Wally Byam, built the world’s first Airstream travel trailer in 1929 and founded the company we now know as Airstream in 1931. But long before then, Wally grew up with a curious spirit, an eye for design, and a creed to live a life that put adventure first. Today, the entire Airstream community keeps Wally’s spirit alive and well, carrying out that very same creed every day.
Inventing the first Airstream
After graduating college, Wally used his experience on the Stanford school newspaper to earn him several jobs in advertising and journalism in Los Angeles. On the side, Wally became a publisher, and by the late 1920s, he owned seven magazines. Around that same time, Wally met and married his first wife Marion James. Together they went camping regularly, but Marion never loved sleeping on the ground in a tent.
When the stock market crashed in 1929, Wally’s magazines went under, and he needed a new venture. It was then he got the idea to build a travel trailer not unlike the wagon he lived in as a child on the farm – but one Marion would actually enjoy camping in.
He started with a Model T chassis with a tent contraption on top. But it was tedious to put together onsite, and it didn’t provide protection from the elements. So he took that same platform and built on it a tear-drop shaped structure with sleeping space, a stove, and an ice chest. Wally and Marion took the trailer on a camping trip and loved it as much as their fellow travelers did – along with their neighbors when they got home.
Wally published a DIY guide in Popular Mechanics on how to build the trailer, and soon several of his neighbors commissioned him to build trailers for them. Eventually demand was big enough that Wally opened a small trailer factory in California to build what he called “Airstreams,” after the way they moved “like a stream of air” down the road.
Leading the company and the caravans
A boom of more than 400 travel trailer companies started in the 1930s, but they soon trickled out. Only Airstream was left standing – already well known for the first riveted aluminum monocoque trailer, the Clipper. Business was booming until World War II, when the factory had to close due wartime demands for all available aluminum. During the war, Wally worked several jobs in the aviation industry, including as a certified manufacturing engineer and production supervisor at Curtis Wright Industries. When the war ended in 1945, Wally persuaded the management at Curtis Wright to let him design and manufacture a line of travel trailers. Always the creative marketer, Wally garnered interest in the new line by inviting the famous French cyclist Alfred Letourneur to visit the factory and tow a trailer with a bike to demonstrate its lightweight nature. The picture became the famous Airstream logo.
Despite tough financial times, Wally was able to re-open Airstream, with his eyes planted as firmly as ever on creating the ultimate vehicles for adventure. And in those hard post-war years, it was Wally’s spirit that inspired employees to work harder than ever, even digging into their own pockets to pay for refrigerators and other parts to be installed in order to get a trailer out the door and sold.
Wally placed a “way of life” at the top of the list of the things Airstream “sold,” and that wasn’t just a marketing ploy; he lived and breathed it. In 1951, Wally and a group of brave adventurers formed the first Airstream Caravan. Their trip through Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua was rugged to say the least, touring some of the most remote terrain in Central America. Wally was exhausted, yet invigorated by the spirit of the caravaners. Over the years, he and his second wife Stella would lead many more caravans through Europe, Canada, and across the entire continent of Africa. On each journey, he searched for new ideas on how to improve his travel trailers.
“In the heart of these words is an entire life’s dream. To those of you who find in the promise of these words your promise, I bequeath this creed…my dream belongs to you.”
To place the great wide world at your doorstep for you who yearn to travel with all the comforts of home.
To provide a more satisfying, meaningful way of travel that offers complete travel independence, wherever and whenever you choose to go or stay.
To keep alive and make real an enduring promise of high adventure and faraway lands…of rediscovering old places and new interests.
To open a whole world of new experiences…a new dimension in enjoyment where travel adventure and good fellowship are your constant companions.
To encourage clubs and rallies that provide an endless source of friendships, travel fun and personal expressions.
To lead caravans wherever the four winds blow…over twinkling boulevards, across trackless deserts…to the traveled and untraveled corners of the earth.
To play some part in promoting international goodwill and understanding among the peoples of the world through person-to-person contact.
To strive endlessly to stir the venturesome spirit that moves you to follow a rainbow to its end…and thus make your travel dreams come true.
How Airstreams Are Made
Airstream caravans aren’t built the fastest way. Not the easiest, either. That’s because they’re built with an obsessive attention to detail, and a willingness to choose the processes and materials that make the absolute best product – even if it’s a little harder, takes a little longer, and costs a little more to do. That’s the kind of quality that makes Airstreams last not just years but generations, and the kind we’re proud to put our name on.
350 hours well spent
Every single Airstream caravan is carefully crafted by hand, right here at our headquarters in Jackson Center, Ohio. And each one takes an average of 350 hours to complete – compared to about 50 hours for the typical white box trailer. Why? Because we build our trailers to last not just a lifetime, but for generations and generations to come. That’s why they easily outpace the average RV lifespan of 15 years, and why 70% of the Airstreams we’ve created since the 1930s are still on the road today.
We start with a frame
Airstream is the only travel trailer manufacturer to build the holding tanks (fresh water, grey water, black water) into the frame. It means we have to specifically design our tanks for their specific places, but the end result is a lower center of gravity, better aerodynamics, a lower overall weight, and better weight distribution. In fact, more than half of each travel trailer’s weight lies below the floor. And that means better balance, more stability, and a smoother towing experience.
We craft the iconic aluminium shell
An average of 1,200 square feet of treated aluminum is used in every trailer, and it’s this lightweight yet super strong material that sets Airstream travel trailers apart from any other travel trailer on the market. We cut, bend, and flex form the aluminum into the shapes we need, and then rivet those pieces together to form an outer and inner shell. Plus, the aluminum is treated to resist ultraviolet rays, mold, discoloration, cracking, flaking, and pulverization. The white enamel on the roof reflects the sun and keeps the inside of the trailer cool.
Then come the rivets
We use about 3,000 rivets to build each travel trailer. They’re attached to the aluminum by two riveters – one outside and one inside the trailer – working in unison with each other even though they can’t see or hear each other. Once all the rivets are secured and the seams are sealed, the aluminum body of the trailer acts as a “semi-monocoque” superstructure not unlike an airplane. It’s lightweight and aerodynamic for travel, yet built to support itself and maintain its integrity for generations.
We attach the entire structure to the chassis
We’re the only RV manufacturer who builds the entire structure of the trailer, lifts it up, and places it on top of the chassis. Why? Because it’s the only way to ensure we have the strongest, most durable structure possible, acting as one solid shell. No other RV on the market can be lifted by its roof, which is the ultimate testament to the self-supporting strength of the aluminum outer shell.
Each trailer is insulated like a home
Once we’ve built the outer shell and placed it onto the chassis, we install plumbing, wiring, and insulation. The EcoBatt® insulation we use is made primarily from sand and recycled glass, and certified to the tightest indoor air quality certification in the industry. It also meets or exceeds all industry performance standards. Once it’s all wired, plumbed, and insulated, an inner aluminum layer is riveted to the frame, which makes up the interior walls of the trailer.
We put the walls through a full hurricane test
Each trailer is rolled right from the production line to the water testing bay, where we spray it with more than 10,000 gallons of (recycled) water at hurricane-force pressure for 30 minutes. During the test, a quality control specialist is inside the trailer looking for leaks. In the rare case that a leak is found, we repair and test the trailer again before furniture is installed.
Everything has to fit through the door
The uninterrupted unity of the aluminum superstructure is what makes it so strong. That’s why everything we install inside has to fit through the 26-inch-wide front door. All of our furniture and cabinetry is handcrafted to work perfectly with the curves of the trailer. And it’s all made the same way as high-quality residential furniture and cabinetry: with wooden dowels and solid wood assemblies. We never use particle board or thin, flimsy paneling to build our furniture.
Quality control checks all the way down the line
Quality control specialists check every single inch of each travel trailer, testing the appliances, heating and cooling, plumbing, lighting, build quality, and more. Each trailer travels down the line with a verified record of what’s been checked and what needs perfected. Once that list is complete, we clean the trailer, apply a fresh coat of wax by hand, and roll it off the production line to an Airstream dealer.
Jayco and Airstream
“In many ways, Jayco Australia is the Australian RV market. Their customer-centric approach and commitment to quality aligns with the Airstream brand, and we couldn’t be happier about partnering with such a trusted leader. Jayco’s national network of dealers, combined with their industry-leading in-country support, will serve Airstream customers well for many years to come.”
“Jayco is pleased to announce this partnership with Airstream USA, the iconic nature of Airstream caravans, combined with the great reputation the company has had for more than 85 years, should serve our dealers well while offering a unique product to Australians across our great country. We look forward to many years of success with this partnership.”
Owner, Jayco Australia
For 44 years, Jayco has been helping Australians to have the best caravanning and camping adventures. Caravans and camper trailers, motorhomes and campervans, pop tops, off-road caravans and toy haulers – there’s a Jayco for everyone.
Jayco is Australia’s largest recreational vehicle (RV) manufacturer. Our vision is to lead the way in RV innovation, not only in Australia but on the global stage. We listen and respond to what our customers need in their RVs to make their holidays effortless.
Every aspect of a Jayco RV is engineered and validated by our Victoria-based Research & Development team. As part of the Jayco Testing Programme, our innovative products undergo weeks of testing in lab and real-life conditions before being released to market.
All our products are designed by Australians, with the harshest Australian conditions in mind. Each Jayco is proudly made in Australia, in our state-of-the-art factory in Dandenong, VIC.
Australia’s most recognised brand for quality and affordable RVs, Jayco is a great success story of Australian manufacturing. Employing over 1,000 people, Jayco continues as a locally-owned family business.