Ohio may not be at the top of your bucket list for summer travels, but if you own or love Airstreams, those shiny, silver travel trailers that are hallmarks of the American open road, then you might want to revise your plans. The company has just opened the Airstream Heritage Center, located inside their world headquarters in Jackson Center, Ohio.
The Heritage Center brings Airstream’s history to life in a museum space that highlights over 90 years of globetrotting adventures. It highlights both the company’s cutting-edge innovation while celebrating the thousands of people who have helped build Airstreams by hand since 1931.
There has long been a partnership between Airstream design and travel adventures. Design aficionados love their looks, while their distinctive shape still commands awe and respect on American highways. A 1960 Airstream Bambi travel trailer has long been part of the permanent collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). You’d be hard-pressed to find a more passionate band of vehicle owners than those who own Airstreams, which have become true emblems of the American passion for driving and discovering.
Throughout the Heritage Center’s 16,000 square foot exhibit space, the focus is on the extraordinary and iconic “silver bullet” as well as the individuals that helped shaped the company’s past.
There are displays featuring the story of Airstream’s founding in 1931 by Wally Byam. Other displays highlight the epic Airstream Caravans that crisscrossed the globe, a traveling advertisement for the silver bullets. There’s also a look at the company’s partnership with America’s space program, as Airstreams became the vehicle of choice to transport astronauts to launch pads.
There are more than 15 vintage Airstream models on display, including a 1938 Clipper, an example of the first riveted aluminum Airstream model. There’s also the Gold Airstream that company founder Wally Byam used to lead the Capetown to Cairo Caravan, a seven-month journey.
The Heritage Center’s Wally Byam Collection celebrates the Airstream founder’s life from his early days to his ongoing legacy, a collection that includes the notebooks where he sketched ideas for his initial Airstream concepts and designs.
The Airstream story wouldn’t be complete without artifacts from the famous caravans that Byam led around the world, trailed by dozens of like-minded Airstream owners and enthusiasts. The Heritage Center utilizes Airstream’s collection of original films and photographs of caravanners traveling around the globe. It begins with the first Airstream Caravan in 1951 and the collection includes country flags flown during the Around the World Caravan and travel diaries from the Africa Caravan. In 1956, Byam shipped 36 Airstreams and 87 caravanners across the Atlantic Ocean for the first Wally Byam Caravan to Europe. Throughout the course of the six-month trip, the caravanners visited 16 countries and traveled 16,000 miles. The trip was documented by National Geographic and the white Airstream Byam used to lead the group is in the Heritage Center.
For those more interested in the mechanics and design of Airstreams, there are selections from the Airstream Archives on display, some 90 years of company history, product testing films, brochures, engineering drawings, newspaper articles, and even plans for NASA’s Mobile Quarantine Facilities.
“For years we’ve been looking for the right way to celebrate our history, and our new Heritage Center is a testament to the products that inspired generations of travelers, and the people who built this brand into an American icon,” said Bob Wheeler, Airstream President & CEO. “The vintage models, mementos, journals, and films on display vividly illustrate how an Airstream is more than simply a recreational vehicle. It’s a vessel that holds the stories accumulated over years of travel and adventure.”
Visit the Airstream Heritage Center for more details.