Recreational Vehicles, A World History 1872-1939

Published on
November 28, 2023
Review Author(s)
Book Author(s)
Andrew Woodmansey
Other Publication Information
Hardbound, 239 pages, profusely illustrated with engravings, black and white photographs and technical drawings
Company: Pen & Sword - Website: Visit Site
Provided by: Casemate Publishers - Website: Visit Site
Cover Image

A good book takes you to places you’ve never been and opens your perspective in ways you might never have considered. This book does just that with an object so ubiquitous that we don’t really notice them, the recreational vehicle or RV. Andrew Woodmansey has written a book that takes us on a worldwide historical journey tracing the origin and development of these vehicles.

A Recreational Vehicle is defined in this book as “a road vehicle that contains sleeping facilities and is used for leisure”. As the author points out, human beings are at our core wanderers. The industrial revolution tied people to living close to their work, but it also eventually provided the leisure time and money to venture away from home. While that consisted of pitching a tent at first, the desire to bring the comforts of home soon led to the first recreational vehicles. These early vehicles called Caravans or trailers as we know them, were pulled by horses, steam engines, cars and trucks. The concept of the caravan goes back as far 900 BCE and include Genghis Khans “Ger”, a traveling tent on wheels pulled by 20 horses. It's not until the 1800s that caravans were truly used for leisure. After a historical overview the book divides into six chapters covering RV development in The United Kingdom, France and Belgium, United States of America, Germany, Australia and New Zealand. Each country follows a similar path of Caravans evolving into the Motorhome or an RV with an internal source of locomotion. Early caravans were heavy and difficult for cars of the day to pull with horsepower in the 10-20hp range. Interesting that in most countries designers turned to aircraft construction methods to build light weight structures strong enough to handle the stress of road travel. For example Glen Curtis of P-40 fighter plane fame, also built a line of RVs. As with any machines, the designs run the gambit from elegant to bizarre. World War II diverted production to other pressing needs, so the author ends this history there.

This book also considers the social implications of RV life. As these vehicles developed into a home on wheels complete with cooking and bathing facilities, it made it possible to buy an RV and live in it anywhere. That doesn’t always meet with the approval of the neighbors. Since the beginning, in all its forms, the RV has been a play toy for the well off, a shelter for the less well off and has morphed into other uses. Those other uses are covered in the closing chapter that covers mobile medical clinics, bookmobiles, traveling churches, circuses, theatre groups and vendors. Not exactly RVs by the book’s definition, but still important uses of the RV. So, as it turns out, there’s a rich history behind these vehicles we see almost everywhere we go. It's all wrapped in a nicely hardbound book that’s sure to start conversation if you leave it on the coffee table. There are not a lot of RV kits out there but a quick look through this book shows several simple designs an average modeler could scratch build. The last section of the book has a selection of patent drawings detailed enough to build from. If you have an interest in this subject or own one of these vehicles, this is an important volume to have. Even if it's not in your normal sphere of interests, you will never see or think about RVs the same once you’ve read it. I know I won’t.

Thanks to Casemate Publishers for the sample copy and to IPMS for sharing an engaging read


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