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Visiting the Airstream Heritage Center

Earlier this year, Kristen visited Airstream in Jackson Center, Ohio. Kristen had worked with Airstream to create a reproduction of a vintage design. That design has since been printed and installed in a vintage Airstream in the Airstream Heritage Center.

While there, Kristen also got a tour of the factory and visited the Airstream Heritage Center. After the visit, Samantha Martin, Heritage Center Curator, talked to us about the center and Airstream’s rich history.

Can you describe the Airstream Heritage Center?

The Airstream Heritage Center is a 16,000-square-foot museum that is home to over 90 years of Airstream history in the form of vintage Caravan footage, artifacts and historic Airstreams. Visitors can immerse themselves in the stories of the exceptional individuals and iconic Airstream products that have helped shape the company’s unparalleled contribution to the world of travel.

Two photos side by side of Airstream founder Wally Byam and a photo of his Airstream listing places he and his wife had visited from 1947 to 1956.

What surprises visitors most when they visit the Heritage Center? 

I find that visitors are most surprised to learn about Airstream’s history of innovative design. The vintage Airstreams in our collection range from 16’ travel trailers to 28’ motorhomes and even some prototype models. Airstream’s founder Wally Byam famously said that Airstream wouldn’t make changes – only improvements. That simple principle has guided Airstream Research & Development for decades and visitors enjoy seeing this evolution and some of the rarer Airstream models up close.

I also find that visitors are surprised to learn about Airstream’s history of global adventures. In 1951 Wally Byam set out to lead a group of Airstreamers who traveled through Mexico and Central America by trailer. This was the first of what was to be known as an Airstream Caravan and established a long-lasting tradition of Airstreamers traversing the globe together and creating memories of a lifetime. Visitors to the Heritage Center can learn more about these historic Caravans and see artifacts from the various places that Airstreamers visited, including Africa, Europe, and China.  

Two photos of vintage Airstreams. One shows a table set with china and candlesticks and the other shows an interior shot with a banquette and decorative souvenir pillows.

What makes an Airstream unique as compared to other RVs?

Airstreams are unlike any other RVs for a few reasons. Our iconic riveted aluminum travel trailers are passed down from generation to generation. Our touring coaches include only the very best in performance, safety, and comfort. Every single Airstream travel trailer is crafted by hand in Jackson Center, Ohio, USA. And when you become an Airstreamer, you join a community of people who hold a life well-lived as their top priority. 

Airstream seems to have its own culture that surrounds it. Can you describe that culture? Is the Heritage Center a must-see for Airstream enthusiasts?

The Airstream community is wonderful because Airstreamers welcome new owners with open arms. The Heritage Center captures this history built on excitement and adventure and inspiration and discovery. It’s a shared passion between the associates who build Airstreams, the owners who explore with them, and the young generation who hopes to someday experience an adventure as great as the African Caravan. 

Two interior photos of Airstreams showing fun, vintage fabrics used to customize the upholstery.

Do you have a favorite Airstream story from your exhibits that a lot of people don’t know about?     

One of my favorite “hidden gems” to point out to visitors is in the 1957 Airstream Bubble we have on display. This Airstream was owned by Oscar and Etta Payne from Wyoming who traveled around the world in this 16’ Airstream for 869 days. The Payne’s knew that they had to make the most efficient use of space in their Airstream, so they turned one of the bench seats at their dining table into a small galvanized steel bathtub! I think it’s a great testament to the innovative spirit of these intrepid travelers.

Why should people who don’t own an Airstream visit the Heritage Center?

The Heritage Center is a great space for anyone who would like to explore the history of an American brand as well as anyone who is inspired by the spirit of travel adventure. Airstream has historic connections to many moments in American history, including the Great Depression, World War II, the space race, and more. Each of these stories is explored in depth in our exhibits. The Heritage Center also serves as a great source of inspiration to encourage visitors to get outdoors and see the world.

Thank you so much to Samantha for taking the time to talk with us. And anyone interested in Airstream, or who just has a little wanderlust, should definitely put the Airstream Heritage Center on your travel list.

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Kristin Crane

Kristin Crane has designed jacquard designs for the home furnishing and residential jobber market for many years, with mills in the US and in China. Today, she writes about pattern and design trends for Design Pool from her home in Providence, Rhode Island. When not writing about fabric, she can be found weaving in her home studio or hiking along the Rhode Island coast.


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