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Early RV Patents: Part Three (1910-1919)

This is the third in a five-part blog on early RV patents. This blog covers worldwide RV patents granted between 1910 and 1919.

(Patent numbers are in brackets - the full patents can be searched online by number or name)

The second decade of the twentieth century saw innovation move at two different speeds in Europe and North America. Whilst Europe was facing the prospect of war, the US was able to develop new types of vehicle that could be used for leisure purposes. Automobiles were becoming powerful enough to tow trailers, so the camping trailer became the preferred form of RV in the US. They were light, affordable and flexible. In this decade we also see some early designs for ‘camping cars’, which were automobiles adapted for camping.

6. Campbell Folding Camping Trailer, USA 1914 (US1,185,981)

The Campbell Folding Camping Trailer developed by Archibald D. Campbell and Lawrence S. Campbell of Los Angeles, California was probably the first purpose-built camping trailer to be commercially sold and manufactured in America from about 1914. As far as we know the first self-built camping trailer was made in 1910 by Dr. A Morsman. The Campbell trailer weighed only 150 pounds. The aim of the trailer was:

“to provide a novel and improved construction whereby a folding tent may be attached to and carried in a box adapted to contain a camping outfit, and which permits of the tent and camping outfit being compacted in the box so as to be always ready for use, easily transported from place to place, and which permits of the tent being easily and quickly set up and taken down when desired.”

The shift during this period from putting loose camping equipment in a box trailer to permanently attaching a tent to a trailer was highly successful in North America. It came at a time when US national parks were opening up to the automobile, leading to many variations of this design being manufactured between 1915 and 1925.

7. The Harman Telescopic Caravan, UK 1914 (GB1914,10484A)

The remarkable simplicity of the drawing included in the 1914 patent of Henry Albert Harman of Shalford, UK belies an important use of the caravan in at least the UK and Australia in the 1910s and 1920s.

Basic caravans were used by ‘traveling picture showmen’ in these countries to give ‘magic lantern’ (slide projector) or cinematography shows to paying audiences. Harman’s design shows a caravan with telescopic walls to allow the rearmost wall to be extended at rest and used as a rear projection screen. Picture showmen would invariably sleep in their caravans, turning them into simple RVs as they moved through the countryside introducing these new entertainment technologies to a fascinated audience. Some showmen used early motorhomes to transport their bulky and sensitive projection equipment.

8. The Stein Camping Car, USA 1916 (US1,196,309)

The 1915 vehicle camping attachment of George R. Stein of San Francisco, California was assigned to Gustav De Bretteville who built the de Bretteville Camping Car from 1916. If we accept the term ‘motorhome’ to mean propulsion and accommodation in a single chassis, this is one of the earliest motorhome patents (but certainly not the first motorhome).

Stein’s camping concept was refreshingly compact, using folding doors and telescopic sides to create a bed, table and several storage compartments built onto the chassis of a standard automobile. De Bretteville produced a small number of these camping cars but it seems the idea did not take off, out-competed by the simpler and more affordable new kid on the block, the camping trailer.

9. The Habig Trailer Camp, USA 1916 (US1,216,986)

The Habig Trailer-Camp developed by Edward H. Habig of Indianapolis, Indiana in 1916 was a further development of the camping trailer. It used a rigid canopy top and bracing that eliminated the requirement for stakes and ropes to secure the canvas sleeping-room extensions.

It was sold by the Cosy Trailer and Equipment Co. of Indianapolis under the brand name of Cozy Camp-mobile for just $165. It was four times as heavy as the earlier Campbell Folding Trailer, weighing 600 pounds, but it could carry up to 1,500 pounds.

10. The Shattuck Outing Trailer, USA 1916 (US1,229,534)

The ‘Outing Trailer’ of William P. Shattuck from Minneapolis, Minnesota was sold by the Shattuck Trailer Co. for $175 and weighed 625 pounds. It included a khaki-colored duck tent, two double beds, a collapsible table, an ice box and a gasoline stove. According to the company it could be set up in seven minutes.

11. The Bunker Camping Automobile, USA 1917 (US1,327,589)

The Camping Automobile of Ward S. Bunker of Waukesha in Wisconsin demonstrated in 1917 that in America the ‘house car’ was beginning to take shape alongside the camping trailer. It took the fold- out bed design of camping trailers and used it in the housecar to create more internal space. Insect screens and a fold-out awning were used to protect the sleeper at night. An icebox was located under a trap door in the floor. Most early house-cars were one-offs built to order for wealthy individuals.

12. The Marx Camping Trailer, USA 1918 (US1,276,388)

The camping trailer of Sidney S. Marx of San Diego, California used a one-piece canvas tent and frame structure to create a lightweight and easy-to-assemble camping trailer. By 1918 assembly time was down to a claimed 5 minutes. It was sold by the Marx Trailer Company of San Diego as the Komfy Kamping Trailer from 1918.

13. The Piggott Demountable Caravan, UK 1919 (GB143,338A)

Across the Atlantic, at the end of the First World War entrepreneurs in post-war UK were developing RVs that moved as far away from the concept of camping as possible. Piggott Bros. of London were early British caravan builders, starting (along with Eccles and Bertram Hutchings) in 1919. As marquee and tent makers, they specialised in caravans with lightweight canvas walls, allowing them to be made somewhat larger than those of their competitors.

Piggott’s caravan patent of 1919 was for a demountable caravan that could be “taken to pieces for storage purposes and adapted when in use to be trailed behind a motor or other tractor for use by parties making tours into the country or for other purposes.”

It consisted of a simple box girder frame with canvas stretched over it, but in its shape we see the beginnings of the standard British caravan design that dominated the country’s roads and lanes until aerodynamic design was introduced from 1930 onwards. Demountable caravans, on the other hand, failed to take off, especially when manufacturers realised they could earn storage fees for caravans not used during the cold British winter.

14. The ‘Liberated House’ of Charles Lafeuille, France 1919 ( UK patent GB1,526,11A)

We finish this decade across the Channel in France with a remarkable caravan.

The two-storey caravan of Charles Jules Fernand Lafeuille (France 1919) was a remarkably large caravan and almost certainly the first two-storey caravan ever built. Lafeuille was an engineer who served as the deputy director of technical services in France’s ‘Office of Industrial Reconstruction’ (“ORI”), formed in 1917 to help French industry recover after the First World War.

His idea was to build a “maison liberée” or ‘liberated house’ to house ORI officials and their families as they worked in areas devastated by the war. The caravan was built by Parisian trailer manufacturer Cadel and was of ‘chocolate box’ construction, meaning the top half dropped down over the bottom, with the two floors connected by an internal staircase. The top half was manually raised and lowered using wires, drums and pulleys and held in place by “collapsible vertical uprights”. One of these ‘liberated houses’ was later seen in use the UK as an RV in 1938, albeit held in place by guy ropes against the blustery British wind.

Andrew Woodmansey

December 2023


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