Taking home on the road has long been a popular pastime, and ever since the invention of the automobile Americans have been manufacturing recreational vehicles to do so, formerly called “house cars.” Some of the most important and interesting campers and motorhomes in the history of the industry are on display at this museum in Elkhart, Indiana, the “RV capital of the world.”
The RV/MH Heritage Foundation established an RV museum in Elkhart County, where more than 80 percent of RVs are manufactured. (It all started with a man who built a trailer so he could take his family on business trips.) Walking through the exhibit in Founders Hall, which has representations of RVs from 1913 through the 1980s, is like walking through a cross between a museum and a campground. The winding path looks like a blacktop road, complete with lane-dividing white stripes, and fake trees and plants replicating the vehicles’ natural habitat: nature.
The 1913 camper, and oldest surviving RV, is the Earl Travel Trailer, which features a table and two benches that, just like they do in modern trailers, convert into a bed. The Spartan Imperial Mansion from 1954 was one of the first all-metal trailers, a result of the Spartan Aircraft Company having had a surplus of metal after the end of World War II. It was huge and luxurious, considered the Cadillac of trailers. The 1931 Chevrolet house car that Mae West was driven to and from Paramount in while filming is also on display.
There’s a 1967 Winnebago, a 1958 Airstream, and exhibits highlighting innovations like the first RV toilet and microwave oven. On the second floor, the Hall of Fame pays tribute to the more than 400 people who are responsible for such innovations over the years. There is also an archive of thousands of periodicals, manuals, and photographs all having to do with the RV industry.
More recent examples of RVs are in the Go RVing exhibition hall, which features five contemporary campers that visitors can enter and explore, as well as a 1/24th scale model of an RV assembly plant. Nearby RV manufacturers offer tours of their own full-sized facilities, in case a trip to the museum doesn’t satisfy your RV curiosity.
Appropriately, museum’s parking lot accommodates RV drivers, with 65-foot-long pull-through parking spaces.
Know Before You Go
The museum is in an area near the expressway. It is a bit hard to find, so keep your eyes open.