1900 - 1945

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So when did the tent trailer emerge and who exactly invented it?

Humans have lived in tents since before recorded history. So the tent has been with us for quite awhile. Automobiles were invented shortly before the 20th century and the auto trailer quickly followed. Early trailers were single or double axle, depending upon the load carried. Speed was not yet a factor in early trailer design. Space was limited in early automobiles. Often times the trailer was used to carry personal luggage. Based upon my research I would say no one single person actually invented the tent trailer. Rather it was the natural progression of the collective efforts of many individuals, as I'll explain.

As the number of automobile owners increased so did the popularity of auto touring, as camping or traveling was often referred to. There were three common methods of auto touring prior to the tent trailer. First was sleeping inside your auto with special rigging as seen in this early advertisement by Tentobed Company. Second was the auto tent and bed kit that was usually carried on the running board. The kit setup like a tent but was attached to the auto using it both for support and additional room. Here is one by the L. F. Schilling Company. The third method was the auto trailer. By 1912 it was common to see people towing their camping outfits (tents, gear, etc) in an auto trailer. All three methods remained very popular for many years after the invention of the tent trailer.

It was from the third method that the concept of attaching one's tent and gear permanently to the auto trailer emerged. But having a tent - trailer combination itself was nothing new. The 1800's covered wagon was just that. And the covered wagon can trace its roots back to the Gypsy wagons many centuries back. You can clearly see the 1800's camp wagon's influence on the design of the automobile tent trailer. Take a look at US Patent 512,273. It is a horse drawn hunting wagon patented by Thomas H. Brown. The beds fold out on the sides and underneath there is a icebox along with other recognizable features. These same ideas were merely incorporated into the new technology of the auto trailer. By 1913 automobile tourist were already experimenting with make-shift tent trailers as noted in the article, Trailer For Auto, published in the November 1913 edition of The Hub. The article acknowledged the usefulness of such adapted-trailers to touring motorist.

The earliest patent for a tent trailer that I have identified so far is US Patent 1,185,981 applied for on October 20, 1914 and granted on June 16, 1916. I have no record of this tent trailer ever going into production. When this tent trailer was invented the idea of a tent trailer was unknown. As such the tent trailer was referred to as a "Combined Camping Outfit and Box". The idea of the tent trailer continued to grow throughout 1914 and 1915. Popular Mechanics published a small article in January 1915 about one such trailer, Motor-Car Camping Outfit Carried On Trailer. The sides of the trailer dropped flat creating level floor space from one side to the other. Above that rested the traditional looking tent structure. It was basically an off-the-ground tent where you provided your own bed cots but the idea of the tent trailer had taken root. To my dismay the inventor remains unknown.

The year 1916 changed everything. It is the year the first tent trailers were mass produced in America. William P. Shattuck was the first to submit his patent in January of that year. See the original 1916 brochures for Shattuck Trailer and the Prairie Schooner (A.P. Warner's Trailer)! Others quickly followed suit and by the end of 1916 there were at least seven companies manufacturing tent trailers which included the Prairie Schooner (Warner Trailer), Twin Bed (Sorlien Ceiling and Bed), Shattuck, Curtis, Cozy, Portable Camp Company and Auto-Kamp. Marx started manufacturing hauling trailers in 1916 as well, but did not introduce the Komfy Kamping Trailer until 1919. Most, if not all, these manufacturers produced auto trailers as well or a combination of the two. I did notice that none of the existing auto trailer manufacturers expanded into the tent trailer business in 1916, nor were they involved in the early innovations of the tent trailer. I find that a bit odd given their advantage from the fact they were already producing trailers for autos. Quite fascinating though is the fact that both a soft-top tent trailer and a hard-top tent trailer made their debuts during 1916.

In 1917 America became involved in World War I which had been going on since 1914 in Europe. As the country's economy moved towards war production such luxuries as camping trailers were put on hold. Timing is everything. The country's involvement in the war seriously curtailed the industry's early growth years.

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