11 coolest things to see at the new Airstream Heritage Center Museum

Drew DorianCar and driver

June 1, 2022 marks the public opening of Airstream’s new Heritage Center, located at the company’s headquarters and manufacturing facility in Jackson Center, Ohio. Before the museum officially opened, we were invited for an overview and guided tour with corporate historian and museum curator, Samantha Martin.

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1

Welcome to the mothership

Right at the entrance to the museum, which is adjacent to the well-stocked gift shop, is an illuminated sign inviting the visitor to enter. Martin explained that Airstream chose to honor its many passionate owners who affectionately refer to the company’s headquarters in this way.

The first silver trailer located inside the museum is this 1938 example, one of the early efforts of Airstream founder Wally Byam. The staff call this one Old Granddad, because it’s one of the first riveted metal trailers produced.

Meet Ruby. Isn’t she cute? This 1948 Airstream Wee Wind was the third ever produced, and despite being over seven decades old, it’s easy to see the design similarities to Airstream’s modern Bambi and Caravel models.

4

The famous cycling challenge

In order to prove that his trailers were light and easy to tow, founder Byam challenged French cyclist Alfred Letourneur to tow one on an airport runway in Van Nuys, California. The stunt worked and Letourneur was able to complete the challenge. Museum goers can sit on the bike and have their photo taken to smile.

The trailers aren’t the only interesting thing to see inside the Heritage Center. This divider wall, for example, uses vintage Airstream advertisements as a clever way to create space between exhibits.

6

1957 Airstream World Traveler in gold anodized aluminum

We’re used to seeing silver Airstreams, but this gold example belonged to Byam himself and was used in the European version of his famous caravan events. Instead of being painted, the aluminum panels of this beauty have been anodized gold and shimmer under museum lighting.

The Caravan events that Airstream held in the 1950s and 1960s are legendary, and the museum is full of all manner of memorabilia and artifacts rescued from those epic months-long voyages. This case, for example, includes several pieces rescued from the African caravan, including a collection of stamps from Byam’s nephew, Dale Schwamborn, and a telegram sent to Byam’s wife after the caravan’s success in Cairo, Egypt.

In the 1970s, Airstream introduced an entry-level brand called Argosy to provide Americans with a less expensive way to experience trailer ownership. It’s one of the first ever produced, and it has all the charm of the era, with green carpeting.

9

Airstream and BMW’s Motorhome Concept Mockup

Believe it or not, Airstream and BMW almost collaborated on a motorhome. This small-scale model shows it would have had windswept styling and classic Airstream proportions. It’s located near a booth that showcases other Airstream concepts from the past, including a trailer co-designed with Nissan.

We’re suckers for a good logo, and Airstream has a bunch of its own on this giant wall. It really is a great way to wrap up a visit to the Heritage Center as it shows all the company badges mixed together. The fact that some of the new ones use fonts that are the same or very similar to vintage fonts only highlights how Airstream leverages nostalgia in its modern age.

11

Exit through the gift shop

As with any good museum, the tour ends with a visit to the Airstream Gift Shop, which is of course stocked to the brim with designer clothing, camping gear and trailer accessories. The Heritage Center opens to the public on June 1. If you go, we also recommend a free tour of the Airstream assembly line, but unlike the museum, this tour requires pre-registration via the Airstream website.

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Wiley C. Thompson