It’s been a trip. Founded in Forest City, Iowa in 1958 as a travel trailer company, Winnebago’s name is now synonymous with motor homes. It hasn’t always been a smooth ride for the company in the boom-and-bust RV industry, but Winnebago has kept rolling along. (When the tough got going, founder John Hanson, was famous for rallying his troops: “You can’t take sex, booze, or weekends away from the American people.”) Indeed. Here’s a look back at just a few of the models and moments from the company’s 56-year history.
Winnebago started producing motor homes in 1966. With the flying W logo and the over-the-cabin “eyebrow”, this one, a 1968 D-27 (a 27-footer), has the classic features, plus a “private entrance” to the rear twin bedroom, “his and her” wardrobes and wall-to-wall carpeting.
Winnebago’s family of products in 1968 included five motor homes, seven travel trailers and 11 truck caps. The company described its motor home products as “luxury traveling lodges”; standard equipment included a cigarette lighter, two ashtrays, and a dinette that converted to a bed.
In the late 60s, Americans were captivated by the possibility of hitting the road in a house on wheels. Magazines dedicated to the pursuit flew off the presses. This one, a May 1968 issue of Mobile Life, captures that enthusiasm with features like “How to Buy a Camp Lantern!” and “Turnpike Camping: New York to Chicago!” That’s a Winnebago on the cover, of course.
An early-era Winnebago trailer was also cover material for the slightly more staid Mobile Home Journal, which celebrated the RV as “a mobile dormitory for coeds!” and referred to the burgeoning class of people who owned them as “trailerists.”
The 1974 D-25 Chieftain was considered a luxury vehicle with an “expansive rear bath”—complete with “big tub and shower” and a “deluxe medicine cabinet." Carpet was still en vogue, and Winnebago made vacuum cleaners a standard motor home feature. The model is similar to the 1973 Chieftain that protagonist Dale Horvath drives on The Walking Dead. Lone Starr also piloted a Chieftain (a 1986 model, with wings) in Spaceballs, the 1987 Mel Brooks comedy.
Winnebago rolled out its 100,000th motor home, a 29-foot Elandan II luxury model, in 1977. A crowd and cameras—Time, Popular Science and Field and Stream all covered the event—were on hand in Forest City for the occasion. The company has since celebrated its 200,000th (1986), 300,000th (1998), and 400,000th (2007) vehicle.
This model, a 1986 Elandan, debuted the same year Winnebago first ranked on the Fortune 500. During the 1980s, the company entered into licensing agreements and in addition to motor homes, the Winnebago name could be found on men’s apparel and camping products like coolers and air mattresses.
Well on its way to 500,000, Winnebago has freshened up its product line-up in recent years (the carpets are long gone). The company’s fastest-selling vehicle is the Travato—the product was introduced in 2013 (a 2015 model is pictured)—a conversion van or Class B motor home that is designed with a sportier RVer in mind.