Saturday, April 21, 2012


PORTABLE LEVITTOWN, a homage to the post-war house on wheels. These sometimes stylish rolling abodes were a mobile counterpart to the mass-produced tract house suburbs that were built in America during the mid-20th century. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Our houses on wheels website begins with a chronology of the mid-20th century house trailer. It all began with "trailer houses" in the 1920s and continued through the advent of the "double-wide" in the early 1960s and introduction of the 14-wide unit around 1970.
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The early evolution of the trailer coach occurred during the Depression years. Rigs of the time were 8 feet in width, a standard that would be used into the 1950s. Everything in a 1930s unit was built-in. Seating and kitchen areas were stationary, as were sleeping accommodations.



Two 1930s trailer coach adverts. The first ad shows a 1934 Federal rig, the second, a 1938 Kozy Coach. At the time, the typical unit measured 16 feet in length and did not include bathroom accomodations. This particular feature would not appear until the early 1940s and did not become a standard fixture until the 1950s.
Adverts from http://www.allmanufacturedhomes.com/html/vintage_mobile_homes.htm (Atlas Mobile Home Museum)


The global conflict of the first half of the 1940s created a pronounced housing shortage and a mass market for the emerging trailer coach. Around this time, the smaller trailer coach began to morph into a somewhat larger type of abode, which was referred to as a "mobile home". Eventually, there would be two different classifications; the shorter "travel trailer"  (later known as an RV or recreational vehicle) and larger house trailer / mobile home.

The typical lengths of new mobile home models was still in the 15-to-27 foot range...with the big time promotional buzz word being LIVEABILITY. There could be "room to spare" in quarters no larger that 200 square feet...or so said the typical mobile home ad of the day. Naturally, super-compact designs made sure that every inch of interior space was used in the most efficient manner possible!


There's room to spare in this "big, new" 1945 model, 8 x 27 foot house on wheels.
Advert from http://www.allmanufacturedhomes.com/html/vintage_mobile_homes.htm
(Atlas Mobile Home Museum)
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The quote-unquote "large" living room seen above may -indeed- seem a bit cramped by today's standards. One might take into account the severe housing shortage that gripped the nation in the years immediately following World War II. The typical newly-wed couple of the time would have considered themselves indeed fortunate to be living in such an abode. How times change!  
Advert from http://www.allmanufacturedhomes.com/html/vintage_mobile_homes.htm (Atlas Mobile Home Museum)


The original caption reads "With the accent on interior designing in 1949 models, the mobile home builders have concentrated on beautiful wall surfaces. In the home shown here, living room walls are of luxurious wood, decoratively pegged and topped with a fluted cornice which conceals indirect lighting. Wall-to-wall carpeting, draw draperies and an upholstered valance complete the picture of livability."
Photo from the Milwaukee Sentinel


A typical mobile home from around 1950. At the time, a "trailer" with bathroom facilities was cutting edge. Yes, there WAS a bathroom, but it usually was not walled off from the hallway and rear bedroom. The body design du jour had rounded ends. The standard interior width was 8 feet, with chassis lengths reaching 30 feet.
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A "Parade Of Homes" mobile home show, circa 1953. An outdoor event is depicted here, but many were held indoors in arenas and exhibition centers. Later, as shopping plazas were dotting the suburban landscape, shows would be set up in their vast parking areas. Trade shows such as this were a popular way for manufacturers to debut new mobile home lines and for the local populace to while away leisure -mid-century- hours.
Rendering from the Milwaukee Sentinel


Rendering from the Milwaukee Sentinel

Soon after the advent of the very first trailer coaches in the USA, a mobile subculture had developed which celebrated the new freedom found in living "on the road". The terms TRAILERITE and TIN CAN TOURIST had become part of the American vernacular by 1936.

Living full time in their 20 by 8 foot "apartments on wheels", devotees of trailer houses numbered 100,000 by the mid-1930s. Some families had adopted a "house on wheels" habitat while travelling the country searching for employment. Others of better means used their portable abodes as a travelling vacation home.


"Trailerite", or one who resides year-round in a trailer coach or so-called house on wheels, had been established in the American vernacular by the mid-1930s. At that time, there was no negative connotation attached...
Drawing From the Milwaukee Sentinel 
 

A cut-away view from the early 1950s shows the typical house trailer orientation. It even includes a special space for that brand-new television set! 
Drawing from the Milwaukee Sentinel
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By 1954, unit lengths had reached 50 feet. Above, we have an example of a floor plan for an 8 foot by 40 foot home. The more spacious "10-wide" debuted in 1956. Still, the typical trailer floor plan had not changed appreciably since the 1930s. There would always be a bedroom in the rear, a bath, perhaps a second (walk-thru) bedroom, then a kitchen and living area. The rounded ends design of the late '40s had now given way to a more squared, and less aerodynamic, body style. Price-wise, mobile homes were selling for between $2,000 and $7,500.
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