The company was created by Wally Byam who began building trailers out of Masonite in his backyard in Los Angeles during the late 1920s. Byam published a magazine selling “how-to” kits to customers wishing to build their own trailers. In 1936, Byam introduced the “Airstream Clipper”, which was essentially a rebadged 1935 Bowlus Road Chief, with the door relocated from the front to the side. The design cut down on wind resistance and thus improved fuel efficiency. It was the first of the now familiar sausage-shaped, silver aluminum Airstream trailers. In 1936, the first Airstream was introduced. Named the Clipper, after the first trans-Atlantic flying boat. Sold for $1,200 it was able to house four people, had electric lights and a water supply. Of more than 400 travel trailer builders operating in 1936, Airstream was the sole survivor of the Depression.
During World War II, travel became a luxury most could not afford and non-military industries faced an acute aluminum shortage. When World War II ended, the economy boomed, and people’s attention once again turned towards leisure travel. Byam’s company went back into production in 1948. In July 1952, a new facility in Jackson Center, Ohio, was established. 1979 saw the last Airstreams to be manufactured in California.