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Airstream Museum Celebrates 91 Years of Vintage Campers and Cool Styling

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 5/26/2022 Drew Dorian
  • Luxury travel trailer manufacturer Airstream is opening a museum celebrating the brand's history.
  • The Airstream Heritage Center is located in Jackson Center, Ohio, on the site of its state-of-the-art manufacturing plant that builds the iconic silver campers.
  • A host of vintage Airstream trailers will be display along with exhibits that highlight the brand's cultural relevance through the decades.

Tiny Jackson Center, Ohio, is hard to find on a map, but it has a surprising claim to fame: It's home to Airstream, maker of arguably the most recognizable travel trailers in America. The Airstream Heritage Center museum, located on the same site as the company's freshly-constructed manufacturing headquarters, is set to open to the public June 1.

Wally Byam's gold anodized Airstream travel trailer © Airstream Wally Byam's gold anodized Airstream travel trailer

Inside, the visitor will see a wide selection of vintage Airstream trailers and related memorabilia that helps illustrate the company's history from the birth of its founder, Wally Byam, to the current day. Some of the items currently on display at the Heritage Center are owned by Airstream itself, but others have been donated or are on loan from owners, including Byam's own family.

"One of the good things about Airstream trailers is that they don't get thrown away," said Airstream chief marketing officer Mollie Hansen. "People resurrect them over and over and over again."

1948 Airstream Wee Wind © Airstream 1948 Airstream Wee Wind

Airstream's history contributes much to the brand's present-day charm, with its silver-sided rivet-bound trailers taking cues from original models dating from as early as 1938. A walk through the museum underscores just how much modern Airstream products share with the early examples.

Several of the exhibits detail intense globetrotting caravans from the 1950s and 1960s, including the 403-day "Around the World" excursion, and the display includes memorabilia and personal stories from a Florida family who participated with three young children.

"People who have vintage collections of very rare trailers are already stepping up to lend us their trailers to show the world or come here for events so that we can extend the museum experience out to the parking lot," Hansen said.

1963 Airstream Tradewind interior © Airstream 1963 Airstream Tradewind interior

To celebrate the grand opening, Airstream is hosting a three-day rally starting Friday, May 27. Some 80 silver trailers are expected to be displayed in the parking lot adjacent to the building. Some will be vintage and potentially quite rare, while others will showcase Airstream's modern era.

"We know our customers will make a pilgrimage to come here," Hansen said. "There were so many people who wanted to come here and see it we had to do a lottery because we can only hold so many."

Airstream and the Apollo 11 moon mission exhibit © Airstream Airstream and the Apollo 11 moon mission exhibit

Airstream's Instagram influencer base was considered when the company laid plans for the Heritage Center, too. Several photo ops throughout the displays provide attendees opportunities to re-create famous scenes from Airstream's history, including one with President Nixon and the Apollo 11 astronauts.

A walking tour of the Airstream assembly line is another attraction that die-hard enthusiasts can enjoy. Although such a tour must be booked in advance, it provides a peek into how the brand's products are made.

IMG_1417.JPG © Drew Dorian - Car and Driver IMG_1417.JPG

When the time came for Airstream to expand its manufacturing footprint, it resisted the urge to do so in its largest market—the American West—and chose to double down in its small Ohio home by building the 725,000-square-foot facility there.

"For a product that's built entirely by hand and requires such care and craftsmanship, skill, and dedication, I didn't have any confidence that we could build or find a workforce outside of Shelby County that understood and respected the heritage of the brand in a way that we needed to be able to maintain the quality of product," CEO Bob Wheeler explains.

Creating a home that includes both the company's headquarters and a destination for Airstream enthusiasts was always part of the plan. The company had been hosting about 10,000 visitors annually for tours of its previous facility, which is still being used today to assemble Airstream's motorhomes, the company said. With the opening of the Heritage Center, the company expects to double that number of annual visitors at the new facility.

The Airstream Heritage Center opens to the public June 1. It's located just inside the main entrance to the company’s headquarters in Jackson Center, Ohio. Those interested in checking out the additional 80 trailers on display for this weekend's rally can see those from Friday, May 27, through Sunday, May 29. More details are on the company's website, and there's also a free factory tour available by advance arrangement, in case you are passing through Ohio in, say, an Airstream.

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