Although PORTABLE LEVITTOWN pertains specifically to the American house trailer of the mid-20th century, their early evolution does merit a perfunctory mention.   

The history of the camping trailer and mobile home can be traced back to the Romani caravans of Europe and, specifically, to the American Conestoga Wagon, whose first recorded mention dates back to 1717. 

Named after the Conestoga River in Southeastern Pennsylvania, these horse-drawn vehicles were used to settle Western Pennsylvania, Ohio and sections of Eastern Canada in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. 

The typical Conestoga Wagon was 18 feet in length and 4 feet in width. Its bottom was curved to keep cargo from shifting or falling out.  The average speed of this mode of transport was 15 miles per day.
Drawing from Wikipedia / Achive of Pearson Scott Foresman

The world's first so-called leisure travel home made its debut in Great Britain, in 1885. Known as The Wanderer, it was built for Scotsman William Gordon Stables, a well-known doctor and author.

Stables used The Wanderer to travel throughout Great Britain. He published his experiences in his 1891 book, "The Gentleman Gipsy". 

William Gordon Stables (on the right) poses in front of The Wanderer. The horse-drawn abode was 30 feet long and 7 feet wide. It was appointed in the most opulent of Victorian decor. 
Photo from

We pick up our early history of the mobile home back in the United States.  By the turn of the 20th century, several developments were in motion that would result in the birth of the house and camping trailer industry. 

Motorized transportation was beginning to replace the horse-drawn method by 1900. Moreover, paved highways had started to link cities and towns across the nation. The grueling 7-day, 80-hour schedule was being shortened to the standard, 5-day, 40-hour work week. This made the first common-folk vacations possible. 

Lastly, the formation of the National Park Service, in August 1916, was establishing vast stretches of unspoiled forested land where such vacations could be enjoyed by the masses. In order to do so, makeshift, home-made "trailer houses" were hastily assembled, which could be towed by that new Ford Model T. 

Soon, American industry was exploiting the trend. The first factory-made "trailer house" was devised by New York's Glenn H. Curtiss, whose Motor Bungalow debuted in 1919. However, it was a lavishly-appointed, luxury item affordable only to those of means.

In this vintage advert, we see the 1921 Curtiss Motor Bungalow. It was, in essence, the world's first "fifth wheel" -type travel trailer. 
Photo from 

The next mobile home milestone occurred in the late 1920s. Indiana's Arthur G. Sherman developed the first affordable, hard-sided (in opposition to a tent) trailer house. 

Sherman presented his first Covered Wagon model at a 1929 auto show in Detroit and received orders for one hundred and eighteen initial units. Soon, his Covered Wagon Company would dominate the fledgling American trailer industry.

An advert promoting the "10th Anniversary" Covered Wagon coach. Note the price...only $395!
Graphic from (Do It Yourself RV)

In a 1930s "trailer coach" everything was built-in. Seating areas and kitchen facilities were stationary, as were sleeping accommodations. The "rig" might even include a heating unit or furnace.

This illustration depicts a "trailer coach", circa-1939. The typical rig was 8 feet wide, 16 feet long, and did not have a bathroom. This feature would not become standard equipment until several years later. 

The social upheaval of The Great Depression caused a marked shift in the American perception of a trailer coach. In the years before 1930, a mobile abode was seen as a symbol of leisure, prosperity and adventure.

As the economy worsened, thousands lost their jobs and began roaming the country, trailer coach in tow, seeking whatever work was available.

A Tin Lizzie and trailer head down US Highway 101, near King City, California. The date,  February 1936.
Photo from Library of Congress / Dorothea Lange

These rigs, originally designed for sporadic use, were having to provide accommodations year-round. Many took on a shoddy and worn-out appearance.

Meanwhile, the first trailer parks, or "auto camps", had been established in bucolic surroundings, often near lakes or National Parks. A host of amenities were often provided.

By the mid-1930s, such facilities were being hastily created on the outskirts of cities, where migrant residents were crowded together, in squalid conditions, with little or no services to speak of. 

Such settlements, often derided as "Hoovervilles", incited the ire of local governments. Trailer coach dwellers, once viewed as tourists, were now labeled as hobos or vagabonds. 

An image taken at a California auto camp trailer park, dated November 1936.
Photo from Library of Congress / Dorothea Lange

The global conflict of the first half of the 1940s created a pronounced housing shortage and mass market for the trailer coach. In the flurry to supply wartime housing for defense plant workers, rigs were built out of whatever materials were available.

Workers assemble emergency housing for defense plant workers at the Western Trailer Company, in Los Angeles. The date, June 1942. 
Photo from Library of Congress / David Bransby 

Like California's Western Trailer Company, Michigan's Alma Trailer Company manufactured emergency housing for defense plant workers. Often, house trailer caravans would be seen, which were enroute to various  defense worker camps around the nation.

In an image dating to March 1941, a trailer caravan crosses the Potomac River into Virginia.
Photo from Library of Congress / Roydan Dixon

A negative image of trailer life, fostered by the economic crash of the 1930s, was refueled by the perception of the emergency wartime trailer as a slipshod and second-rate housing option.

At the same time, the big promotional buzz word of the 1940s was LIVEABILITY. There could be "room to spare" in quarters no larger that 200 square feet...or so an advertisement of the time might have said.

With a severe housing shortage at hand, a mid-century family was thankful, indeed, to have a tiny, cramped trailer coach to call home. 

A snapshot from February 1942 shows a trailerite family who live at the Farm Security Administration's Sunnyside trailer camp. The father works at the adjacent Burlington, Iowa defense plant. 
Photo from Library of Congress / John Vachon

Naturally, super-compact designs made sure that every inch of interior space was used in the most efficient manner possible!

Here we see another wartime trailerite family. The father is also employed at the Burlington, Iowa facility. 
Photo from Library of Congress / John Vachon

In this image from May 1941, we view a Farm Security Administration trailer camp, which houses workers at a Nashville, Tennessee defense plant.
Photo from Library of Congress / Peter Saeker

The American public's negative house trailer perception began to improve after the war. Superbly-crafted coaches were being built by manufacturers such as Schult, Spartan and, eventually, Detroiter. These, and other well-built rigs, were marketed to returning GIs and their wives as a quick and economical way to achieve the American Dream of home ownership.  

A typical post-war unit is depicted above. Now officially known as "mobile homes", rigs extend for up to 40 feet, with the standard width being 8 feet.

In the late 1940s, bathroom facilities were available in a new mobile home, but were a deluxe feature. If there was a bathroom, it probably wasn't a complete one, with commode, lavatory and bath tub.

3/4, or "shower baths" became a standard mobile home component with the 1951 model year. By the mid-1950s, most newly-built rigs included a full bathroom.

In the years following World War II, America experienced the largest -and longest-lasting- economic expansion in its history. During these "boom" years, a favorite way to pass the time was to attend one of the many mobile home shows that were being held in venues across the nation.

Such events were a popular way for manufacturers to debut new models. Often a circus-type atmosphere was created, using bathing beauties, exotic animals, pole sitters, high divers and other attention-getting spectacles. 

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 began dotting the suburban landscape, shows would be set up in their vast parking areas. 
Drawing from the Milwaukee Sentinel

A mid-century Mr. & Mrs. find the (mobile) home of their dreams at a "Parade of Homes" exhibition. 
Drawing from the Milwaukee Sentinel

This graphic, a re-creation of a mid-20th century mobile home show advert, is typical of the time. 


The terms "Tin Can Tourist" and "Trailerite" had become part of the American vernacular by 1936. Oddly enough, "Tin Can Tourist" was not originally intended as an assessment of one's aluminum-clad, mobile accommodations. It was concocted as a slur against travelers who ate out of tin cans, instead of going to the trouble of preparing home-cooked meals or dining in restaurants. 

"Tin Can Tourist" had lost its negative implications by the mid-20th century, when it had been embraced by the vacation trailer community. The "Trailerite" term apparently never had such a less-than-favorable connotation.

"Trailerite", or one who lived year-round in a trailer coach or "house on wheels". The term, coined in the early 1930s, was in common usage during the mid-century years. It was being heard less frequently by the early 1960s and was archaic -and totally forgotten- by the early 1970s. 
Drawing From the Milwaukee Sentinel 

By the mid-1950s, trailer manufacturing was evolving (more or less behind the scenes) into two different classes . A smaller unit, 8 feet in width and roughly 20 feet in length, would eventually be known as the "travel trailer" or "RV" (recreational vehicle). 

The sleek 1954 Airstream Flying Cloud was a high-end travel-type trailer.

Early versions of the "house trailer" or "mobile home" were also 8 feet in width but could extend for up to 50 feet. These rigs were becoming too large to be hauled by the family car. 

A cut-away view shows the orientation of a mid-1950s house trailer. This model even includes a special space for that brand-new television set! 
Drawing from the Milwaukee Sentinel
                                        Click on image for a larger view

The Long & Short Of It: A Mobile Home Cavalcade, Part One

In 1946, mobile homes such as the PALACE COACH were being built in America. This rig measured 25 feet from tail end-to-tongue. It was 8 feet wide.
Click on image for a larger view

Here we see another "8-wide" coach. The classic 1950 SPARTANETTE was built by Oklahoma's Spartan Aircraft Company. It was a 30 footer. 
Click on image for a larger view

As its name implied, the 1952 TRAVELO 26 was a 26 foot rig, with a width of 8. Even in the early '50s, this was quite a short and small trailer. 
Click on image for a larger view

The COLONIAL line for 1954 included the 42 foot TOWN & COUNTRY model, whose side-to-side measurement was 8 feet. 
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Lastly, we present a beautiful 1956-vintage ALL STATES rig. For its time, the 8-wide ROCKET was an extraordinarily long trailer. It stretched for 52 feet. 
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On February 18, 1954, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios premiered "The Long, Long Trailer", a feature film vehicle for Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, stars of CBS TV's "I Love Lucy". The picture, based on the 1951 Clinton Twiss novel of the same name, was directed by Vincente Minnelli and featured Marjorie Main and Keenan Wynn.

A fictional Trailerite couple, Nicholas Collini, and wife Anastacia (or "Tacy"), purchase a 35-foot New Moon "mobile apartment home" for a whopping $5,345.00 (a brand-new "Levittowner Number 1" tract house could have been had for $10,990 at the time). 

The Collinis spend their honeymoon on the road and, as one might expect, several side-splitting scenes ensue.

"The Long, Long Trailer" ended up being MGM's top-grossing comedy film for several years and was a major business booster for Michigan-based Redman Industries-New Moon Homes. 
Original VHS cover from MGM Studios (1990) [See Media Fair Use Rationale at end of article]

Above, we have a circa-1954 newspaper advertisement promoting the rig portrayed in "The Long, Long Trailer". New Moon Homes marketed it as their "I Love Lucy" model. Viewed today, "The Long, Long Trailer" is vastly entertaining. The movie is also an historic record of the Trailerite culture, a facet of mid-20th century Americana relegated, long ago, to misty, Technicolored memory. 
Advert From The Beaver County Times (Beaver County, Pennsylvania)

Tacy and Nicky Collini's 8-wide rig extended 35 feet & 3 inches from stem to stern (in the film, the trailer's length was quoted as being "36" and even "40"). The single bedroom unit depicted featured a sunken living room, doorbell chime and shower bath.

You might want to make a favorite or bookmark of the following URL. Clicking on it will take you to a destination on the Internet Archive where you may read a pdf file of the entire 1951 Clinton Twiss of charge.

Lucy and Desi's ordeal on wheels demonstrated the impracticality of trying to transport the newer 40-50 foot rigs with the family car. Americans now purchased a mobile abode and had it towed by truck. It was made stationary, often at one of the many trailer parks around the nation.

Of course, this was inciting the ire of local governments, who bemoaned the tax-free status enjoyed by the typical Trailerite family.  Moreover, the real estate industry was lobbying hard to establish local zoning restrictions that would make it illegal to set up a mobile home on a single lot. 

Simply stated, you would either have to park your mobile home on a postage stamp-sized park lot or else have to buy a house, preferably from a realtor.

Above, we see a circa-1961 advertisement for the Mobel Americana park, in St. Petersburg, Florida. In the mid-20th century, the trailer park was often promoted as a vacation or retirement haven. Several luxurious amenities, such as tennis courts and swimming pools, could be included. Monthly lot rents ran between $20 and $50 per month. 
Advert from The St. Petersburg Evening Independent

Here we have an idyllic 1950s view of the Briny Breezes Trailer Park, in Delray Beach, Florida. Back in the day, before prices of American real estate skyrocketed into the financial stratosphere, trailer parks were often established at seaside locations. Nowadays, such property is simply too valuable and expensive to be utilized in such a manner. 
Photo from

Promoted as "America's most luxurious trailer park", the Blue Skies Trailer Village was founded by Bing Crosby in late 1954. Named after the 1946 "Der Bingle" movie and song, the facility was created on 21 acres, southeast of Cathedral City, in the Coachella Valley desert. Although the vintage matchbook cover seen above locates the park in Palm Springs, it is now within the city of Rancho Mirage, which was incorporated in 1973.
Graphic from "Vintage Advertising - Manufactured Homes"    

Streets in the two-hundred-and-fifty-unit park were named after Hollywood luminaries who initially invested in its establishment. In addition to the thoroughfares indicated above, there were Danny Kaye Road, Burns & Allen Road, Claudette Colbert Road, Greer Garson Road and Jack Benny Road. By the way, the park still exists, although it is no longer a weekend getaway for movie stars. 
Photo from

Before highway statutes were changed in the mid-1950s, it was illegal, in most states, to transport any mobile home wider than 8 feet. The industry sought to comply with the "no wider than 8 feet" directive. However, there was also an incentive to create larger and more spacious units. It was determined that the only option was to expand the mobile home upnot out.

In 1952, the split-level design, exemplified by the Ventoura Loft Liner seen below, made its debut. The main level bedroom area of these rigs had an extremely low ceiling (something like 6 feet). A 3 or 4 foot-high "loft", serving as a second -bedroom- level, was accessed by a set of stairs.

Above and below we witness the Ventoura Loft Liner, one of the early split level trailers. The low ceilings of loft-type bedrooms made such quarters feasible only for use by children. An adult would surely have gotten claustrophobia!

We have created a cut-away view of the split-level Loft Liner. Rigs such as this were made obsolete by the advent of the 12-wide, which debuted with the 1961 model year. 
Click on image for a larger view 

By the late 1950s, the Jet Age in America had morphed into the Space Age. Man was now sending rockets -and satellites- into the heavens. Architecture had become ultra-modern and futuristic as a reflection of the times. This new ethic was being expressed in a big way with the designs for exteriors of new mobile homes. At the same time, new and exciting things were happening inside... 

A space-age husband and spouse relax in the "center kitchen" of their house on wheels. It came equipped with the latest yellow-shade refrigerator, stove and double-bowl sink. Pastel appliances and bathroom fixtures debuted in the early 1950s and became a sensation.
Photo from Mobile Home Manufacturers Association

Meanwhile, mobile home interior design was making great strides in the mid-to-late 1950s. Up to this time, a standard rear bedroom/front living room layout was used for most rigs. Things began to change with the 1956 model year. One of the first "front kitchen" trailers, similar to the unit seen here, was introduced.
Photo from Mobile Home Manufacturers Association