With its distinctive silver, bullet-shaped profile, the Airstream has been an integral part of the American recreational landscape for more than 85 years. Its shiny exterior, unique silhouette, and adventurous reputation are often the first things that people notice about Airstreams—but it's the spirit in which they were created that makes people fall in love with them.
In her new book published by Harper Design titled Living the Airstream Life, Karen Flett tells the interesting story of the designers who transformed the Airstream brand into a mainstay of American life, diving deep into its rich history with stories, anecdotes, and practical advice for travelers. She explains that Airstream's original founder Wally Byam intentionally avoided having a marketing division. Instead, he formed what he called the "Airstream Way of Life Department." He wasn't merely selling a trailer—he was sharing the lifestyle he loved.
In her introduction, Flett references Byam, explaining how the vehicle provides a sense of stability and enables regular citizens to step outside of their comfort zones. She writes, "Traveling with my home is where I find both comfort and experience. With the ability to hitch up my home and take it with me on my adventure, I find the nervous excitement of the unknown, yet travel with the comforting experience of the familiar." Today, these nostalgic trailers continue to gain popularity.
Flett provides a detailed account of Airstream’s design and its developments over the years—from the 1930s Torpedos to the modern-day Toy Haulers and Limited Edition trailers. She takes an in-depth look at what it really means to live the "Airstream way of life."
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The Airstream trailer (as we know it today) first took its form in the mid-1930s. The Airstream Clipper was the first trailer that was made from aluminum and rivets. Its shape was influenced by World War II aircraft design—unsurprisingly, since many of the trailer designers (including Byam) participated in the war effort by building airplanes. The skills Byam learned during this period allowed him to apply the same high quality of craftsmanship to his trailers.
Flett also includes a how-to guide to design, decorate, and customize your own Airstream for both DIY-ers and experts alike. She offers inspiration for those actively pursuing a life on the road, whether for permanent living or as a temporary escape from the daily grind.
As she writes in her introduction, "We live in an era when we are so lucky to be able to see beyond our needs, to see our desires. To be appreciative of that and to make the most of this wondrous opportunity will make us feel that we have truly lived our lives rather than just letting the days pass us by."