A history of mobile homes
Everything goes through a cycle of change, including mobile homes. Our time-traveling journey will begin in the 1500s and end where we are today.
Yes, you read that right. Mobile home history can technically be traced back as far as the 1500s. Wandering gypsies traveled around in their horse-drawn homes. And these horse-drawn homes were the mobile homes of the day.
Fascinatingly, the gypsy lifestyle grew in popularity in the 1800s and held keen interest for about seventy years. These gypsy homes (also known as Vardo) were often elaborate with beautiful carpentry and even chimneys.
As far as we can tell, the beginnings of mobile homes on American soil began in the 1870s. These mobile homes made their residence along the beach in North Carolina. Similar to the gypsy caravan, a team of horses would haul the homes to their destinations.
Next stop is the 1920s. Here we have what they referred to as trailer coaches. Designed to be hauled by vehicles, they were a great alternative to living in a tent. In general, they were used for camping trips.
And this is where the shared history of RV trailers and mobile homes will part ways, each serving a different need for different users.
With the end of World War II on the stage of American history, Americans faced a dire need for more housing. The troops who returned home needed the flexibility to go where new jobs were available. Additionally, they needed a place to raise their families, as they started their lives post-war.
The American housing situation of the day could not sufficiently cater to the need for new homes. As a result, these trailer home manufacturers stepped up to the plate. Eight-foot trailers were manufactured to fill this need.
Especially noteworthy is the introduction of bathrooms inside these mobile homes. In 1948, manufacturers began to include them in the design.
Again, the mobile home gets a facelift and finally gets its name, “mobile home.” The width is increased to ten feet and it’s more box-like than ever. These homes were constructed with aluminum panels, painted before installation.
The eight-foot wide homes could be moved around by the owner’s vehicles. However, the ten foot wide homes required a professional moving service and special permits for relocation. They were meant to be much more stationary due to the hassle of relocating them from place to place.
Welcome to the 60s. Here we have the introduction of the ever popular and design-flexible double-wide.
Along with this new chapter in mobile home history, we have the American National Standards Institute (ANSI.) ANSI began to develop construction standards for mobile homes, helping to change the tide in mobile home quality.
Interestingly, one of the biggest turning points in mobile home history is in the 1970s.
It’s here that forty-five states adopt ANSI’s standards. In addition to ANSI, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Code is set in place. Through these two standards, the bar is raised for mobile home construction is continuing decades.
The HUD code gives manufactured a set of minimum requirements in their construction. This affects the home’s durability, efficiency, and safety.
1980s and 1990s
During the 1980s and 1990s, the HUD Code undergoes a period of refining. Problems such as formaldehyde emission are dealt with and thermal-zone maps require changes.
In 1980, the U.S. Congress officially changed the name “mobile home” to “manufactured home.” However, the general public continues to use the two terms interchangeably.
Mobile homes today
The stigma of the dingy mobile home is due to the mobile home of years gone by. It’s part of the growing pains of the mobile home’s history.
As a result of the HUD laws re-instated in the 1970s, manufacturers continue to step up their quality in design and construction technique.
With an estimated 20 million Americans living in mobile homes, it’s good to see more people are realizing we’ve come a long way. The flimsy shelters of the 1940s are no longer deemed appropriate by manufactures. Seeing the affordability and quality found in the mobile home, it’s no wonder people are paying it more notice as a viable housing option.
Compared to the mobile homes of the 1970s, today’s mobile home is often difficult to distinguish from the site built home.
What about the future?
So we hope you enjoyed the whirlwind tour through mobile home history. Did it surprise you? For something as simple as housing, the mobile home has seen much throughout the years. While its past includes gypsies and WWII veterans, its future is likely to be just as exciting. Time-traveling can be fun, but how about a bit of world-traveling to see what mobile homes look like around the world?